If you recently twisted your knee and the pain won't go away, you might have a torn meniscus. The meniscus is the cartilage that cushions and protects your knee joint. A tear is a common injury that leads to swelling and pain. If you have knee pain, you should visit your doctor for an evaluation because a torn meniscus is sometimes accompanied by other knee damage and you may need treatments such as knee surgery or physical therapy to help heal. Here's what causes a torn meniscus and how it can be treated.
What Can Cause A Meniscus Tear
A meniscus tear is a sports injury that occurs after a sudden twist to your knee. The force on the cartilage causes it to tear. The injury might be minor enough that the tear doesn't seem too bad at first, but the pain increases later as swelling sets in. A torn meniscus is more common in older people because the cartilage wears out with age. If you're an older adult, it's possible to tear your meniscus by doing something as simple as getting out of a chair if you put pressure on your knee just right.
How A Minor Tear Is Treated
A small tear in the cartilage could heal on its own. The top part of the cartilage has a plentiful blood supply that makes self-repair possible as long as the knee gets rest. You'll need to stop and elevate your knee several times throughout the day. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling, and you can try using ice packs for swelling and pain.
It's also important to adjust your activity. You may need to stop playing sports until your knee recovers. Depending on the location and severity of the tear, your doctor may allow sports such as swimming that don't stress your knee. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to speed healing and increase the strength of your knee.
When Surgery May Be Needed
Deep tears may not heal by themselves. The deeper layers of cartilage do not have the blood supply that's needed for tissue repair. When a tear is deep or when cartilage is broken off and causing your knee to lock up and lose range of motion, then your doctor may recommend surgery. Meniscus surgery can involve stitching the tear back together, removing part of the meniscus, and even having a cartilage transplant.
Your doctor will run various tests on your knee that might include inserting a scope through your skin to examine the cartilage. This helps determine the right type of knee surgery for your injury. Recovery from the knee surgery will vary in length depending on the kind of surgery done and the severity of the damage. Physical therapy is an important part of recovering from meniscus tear surgery so your knee will maintain normal range of motion and strength as you heal.