Meniscal injuries are common among sportspeople and can occur alone or in combination with ligamentous injuries. They can occur from an acute injury or due to wear and tear overtime. This blog will help you to identify the signs of a meniscus injury and the treatment options available to you.
What is a meniscus?
A meniscus is a crescent/kidney shaped structure made of cartilage that separates your upper and lower leg bones at the knee joint. Each knee joint has both a lateral and medial meniscus that act as shock absorbers for the knee. So, when we walk, run, hop or jump the menisci absorb and disperse these forces to avoid damage to the Tibia and Femur bones. They also help to stabilise the knee during rotational movements in combination with the anterior cruciate ligament.
How have I injured my meniscus?
A meniscus tear is either acute due to trauma or chronic due to degeneration. Generally, acute meniscus tears occur in a younger population by twisting on a flexed knee with the foot planted. Chronic tears occur in the older population due to natural age-related degeneration and can often go unnoticed without any pain.
How do I know if I’ve torn my meniscus?
As mentioned, most acute meniscus injuries occur via a twisting injury. Often during running and being contacted or pivoting on a grounded foot. People complain of sudden onset of pain in variable locations. Most commonly pain will be experienced at the inner or outer joint line of the knee. The knee will swell within 24 hours of the injury and there will likely be loss of both bending and straightening range of movement. Some people also experience locking of the knee. Symptoms can vary significantly depending on the severity and size of the tear.
Treatment of meniscus tears varies significantly depending on the severity of the tear. Small and degenerative tears will usually respond well to physiotherapy. Manual and exercise therapy can help to reduce swelling and pain and increase range of movement of the knee and are utilised in the early stages of treatment. As pain reduces your physiotherapist will then prescribe a knee strengthening exercise program to reduce the bone stress and increase stability of the knee. It takes approximately 6-8 weeks for a meniscus tear to heal. Severe and large tears of the meniscus sometimes require arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery but in most cases a course of conservative treatment (physiotherapy) is trialled to avoid surgery if possible. In the case of surgery, most people will commence a rehabilitation program guided by a physiotherapist shortly after.
Rehabilitation after Meniscal surgery
Following surgery physiotherapy follows a similar approach to that used for those treated without surgery. Exercise and manual techniques are utilised to gain full range of motion and thigh muscle activation initially, before progressing to functional lower limb strengthening and eventually return to sport retraining.
If you think that you may have torn your meniscus make sure to consult your physiotherapist to ensure it is diagnosed and managed correctly.