Meniscus Injury FAQs
Where is the meniscus located?
There are two menisci in each knee, one on the outside of the knee and the other on the inside of the knee joint. They attach to the tibia (shin bone) and fit between the tibia and the femur (thigh bone).
What do the meniscus do?
The meniscus is made of cartilage and performs several functions:
- shock absorbers between the bones
- reduce friction during movement
- stabilize the knee (they help the ligaments maintain stability)
- balance body weight evenly over the meniscus
- cartilage nutrition
How will I know if I have a meniscus injury?
Most meniscus injuries occur during sports activities, but can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate the knee, such as pivoting and sudden stopping. With a meniscus injury, you will have immediate localized pain (on the inside or outside of your knee) and often have difficulty walking or standing. Sometimes your knee can lock or can catch. We call these “having mechanical symptoms.” In these cases, treatment should be pursued sooner rather than later.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus injury?
- Pain, swelling, stiffness are the initial symptoms.
- Pain that is worse when squatting or twisting.
- When the injury occurs, you may feel or sense a popping.
- Clicking, catching and locking of the knee
- Inability to straighten the knee without significant pain
When should I see a doctor?
- When your pain and swelling don’t go away within a few days of the injury
- when you are unable to straighten your knee, or the knee locks up
- when you cannot perform daily activities without pain.
Can I walk around with a meniscus injury?
Many people are able to walk, stand, sit, and sleep without pain if the knee has not locked up (inability to straighten or bend the knee). Others are too uncomfortable to perform daily activities. However, even if you can stand and walk with minimal pain, if left untreated, the tear can impact your daily life and the ability to participate in exercise and sports. Without the protection of the meniscus, the bones can rub together and cause arthritis.
Will I need surgery for a tear?
Not all tears require surgery. The choice of treatment depends on the type and severity of injury, your health, your needs, and whether there are other knee injuries involved. The answer can only be answered when you receive the correct diagnosis from an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Chahla usually tries non-surgical approaches first and if they fail, surgery can be indicated in selected individuals.
Can I treat a torn meniscus at home?
When you have symptoms, try conservative management: RICE- rest, ice, compression, and elevation, plus anti-inflammatory medications. If the pain and swelling do not resolve within 6 weeks or symptoms go away and return, see a doctor. Cortisone injections can also help with the pain and swelling; however, if they do not have a durable effect other approaches should be attempted.
Will a meniscus tear heal on its own?
Some tears will heal on their own with care (usually tears that are closer to the surface of the knee as they have more vessels that can bring them more nutrients). Other tears in the ‘white’ zone have no blood supply and cannot heal on their own. However, you won’t know if the tear is in the ‘red’ zone (where there are an increased numbers of vessels) unless you get a diagnosis through an MRI.
If I need surgery, what are my options?
Arthroscopic minimally invasive knee surgery is a procedure that can be used to repair the tear, trim and remove torn pieces of cartilage, remove a part of the meniscus, or even remove the entire meniscus. Dr. Chahla, a Chicago-based orthopaedic and sports medicine specialist, will attempt to preserve the meniscus whenever possible. When there is a small piece of meniscus torn, a partial meniscectomy (taking 5 to 10% of the meniscal volume) can be indicated as these repairs can have a high failure rate. However, when the tear will require a significant trimming of the meniscus, a repair should be performed if the quality of the meniscus is good. It can be a serious decision for you to have a meniscus trimmed, rather than repaired, especially when you are young as it can potentially put you at risk of arthritis later in life.
For young and active patients who have had their entire meniscus removed, and subsequently develop knee pain, but are too young for a knee replacement, a meniscus transplant may be recommended.