Meniscus Tears

A meniscus tear, a prevalent knee injury often associated with sports, can be both painful and incapacitating. This injury occurs when the meniscus, the cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the knee joint, is torn due to a sudden twist or change in direction.

These tears are not only common during contact and non-contact sports but can also result from aging and degeneration. With symptoms like pain, swelling, and difficulty in bending or straightening the leg, a thorough examination and possible imaging tests are needed for diagnosis

Dr. Bigby, an esteemed orthopedic surgeon, specializes in addressing meniscus tears arising from sports injuries. His proficiency extends to a myriad of treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, ensuring comprehensive care for his patients.

What is a Meniscus Tear?

A meniscus tear involves damage to the knee's meniscus, a C-shaped cartilage piece that acts as a shock absorber between the femur (thighbone) and the tibia (shinbone). 

There are two menisci in each knee—one on the inside (medial meniscus) and one on the outside (lateral meniscus). Meniscus tears typically result from twisting the knee during weight-bearing activities, especially in sports. 

However, age-related degeneration also increases the risk of experiencing meniscus tears.

Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear

Symptoms of a meniscus tear may vary from person to person. However, the common signs include:

  • Pain, particularly when straightening the knee
  • Swelling and stiffness
  • A feeling of the knee "catching" or "locking"
  • Weakness in the knee during activity

In some cases, you might also experience a popping sensation when the injury occurs. Symptoms may worsen with activities that put additional strain on the knee, such as walking up or down stairs.

Causes of Meniscus Tears

Meniscus tears can occur acutely during forceful knee twisting while bearing weight, a common incident in sports like football, basketball, and soccer. Less commonly, repetitive kneeling or rising from a squatting position while lifting heavy objects can lead to a tear.

Conversely, atraumatic or degenerative tears are more common in older populations, resulting from the natural wearing down and weakening of the meniscal structure over time. Pre-existing conditions, such as osteoarthritis, can also increase the risk of meniscus tears.

Diagnosing Meniscus Tears

Diagnosing a meniscus tear typically involves a physical examination, which considers your medical history. During the examination, your doctor will check for tenderness along the joint line, which often signals a tear. 

One of the primary tests for meniscus tears is the McMurray test, where your knee is bent, straightened, and rotated. This action puts tension on a torn meniscus, and if you have one, this movement may cause pain or a clicking sensation.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order imaging tests such as X-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. While X-rays provide images of dense structures like bone, MRIs assess the soft tissues in your knee, including the menisci, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.

Nonsurgical Treatment Options

Many meniscus tears may not require immediate surgery. If your symptoms do not persist and you experience no locking or swelling of the knee, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatment options. These include:

  • RICE Protocol: This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It's effective for most sports-related injuries.
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid medication can be injected into your knee joint to eliminate pain and swelling.
  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises can help restore your knee mobility and strength.

In addition to these, emerging treatments such as biologics injections, like platelet-rich plasma (PRP), are currently under study and may show promise for treating meniscus tears in the future.

Surgical Treatment

If your symptoms persist with nonsurgical treatment, your doctor may suggest arthroscopic surgery. 

This procedure involves the surgeon inserting a miniature camera and surgical instruments through small incisions to trim or repair the tear. The recovery time varies depending on whether the meniscus was trimmed (meniscectomy) or repaired.

Post-surgery, your doctor will prescribe rehabilitation exercises. These exercises, which can often be carried out at home, aim to restore your knee mobility and strength.

Preventing Meniscus Tears

While it's challenging to prevent acute injuries, proper knee care can help decrease the chances of a meniscus tear. Some preventive measures include:

  •  Strengthening leg muscles
  • Proper warm-up before activities
  • Avoiding overfatigue of leg muscles
  • Gradually increasing activity intensity
  • Wearing appropriate footwear during exercise

The Role of an Orthopedic Surgeon

An orthopedic surgeon plays a crucial role in diagnosing and treating meniscus tears. 

As a top orthopedic surgeon and a premier hip & knee replacement specialist in Maryland, Dr. Ulric Bigby offers comprehensive care options for patients dealing with a torn meniscus. His expertise ranges from nonoperative care for arthritis, pain management, and physical therapy, to advanced surgical procedures such as hip and knee replacement.

Meniscus Tears in Maryland

Meniscus tears, while common, are manageable with the right diagnosis and treatment. Whether you're an athlete or someone who has developed a tear through degenerative changes, understanding the condition is the first step toward recovery. 

Dr. Ulric Bigby, a top-rated orthopedic surgeon, can diagnose your meniscus tear and provide a comprehensive range of treatment options. You can schedule a consultation online or contact Dr. Bigby at one of his three locations:

Sports injuries, be it hip or knee, don't have to end your athletic pursuits. With the right care and treatment from experts like Dr. Bigby, you can return to the game you love.

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