Just reading the words “torn meniscus” is enough to cause discomfort — in your mind, at the very least. It sounds painful because it is!
Cartilage is strong, rubbery tissue that cushions and stabilizes the points where your bones meet your joints. Your two menisci are cartilage discs in your knee. When healthy and uninjured, they do great work as shock absorbers for your knee.
Unfortunately, damage to the meniscus is incredibly easy to sustain and common. Of the 850,000 orthopedic surgeries that take place annually, 10-20% are performed to repair a torn meniscus.
As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and physician to legions of professional athletes, Dr. Struan Coleman has skillfully repaired countless meniscus injuries, and patients happily return to their previous levels of activity, pain-free.
Dr. Coleman also focuses on prevention when he speaks with his patients. If you can avoid a tear, you save yourself considerable discomfort.
How your meniscus serves you, and the ways it can get injured
In addition to being a superb shock absorber as you go about your daily activities, your meniscus also serves other important roles. Your meniscus disc is really two pieces (menisci), and they:
- Keep your knee bones from grating against each other
- Ensure that the weight your knee supports is well-balanced
- Protect your knee from excessive pressure
The problem is, a tear can happen quickly, and we’ll get to the causes, which are many and varied, next.
It’s easy to tear your meniscus
This is the sad truth. Everyday activities can cause an injury just as much as engaging in intense physical activity. You can raise your risk of injury if you:
- Have your feet firmly planted and need to twist or turn quickly, such as in football, volleyball, and soccer
- Are running and need to suddenly change your direction
- Abruptly twist your knee
- Get older; the meniscus weakens and thins as you age
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a meniscus tear, like when you’re on the field playing to win, but being mindful of your movement and avoiding awkward knee twists can help you avoid an injury.
Warming up before exercising, easing into increasing your activity level, and resting between periods of physical activity can help reduce your likelihood of a tear. So can staying flexible and wearing good, supportive shoes that fit correctly.
Identifying a meniscus injury that needs medical treatment
It’s important to know there are three levels of meniscus injuries: minor, moderate, and severe. Minor and moderate injuries can usually heal on their own with TLC and rest, though you’ll have more pain and swelling with a moderate injury.
A severe tear, however, requires more than rest and time. Loose meniscus fragments can get into your knee joint, which causes knee locking and popping, and/or the inability to bend or straighten your knee. These symptoms should send you straight to our office.
What’s the best treatment for an injured meniscus?
Of course, Dr. Coleman bases his treatment on where your tear is and how significant it is. He also considers how active you are and your age when devising solutions.
Conservative treatments for meniscus injuries include RICE treatment (rest, icing, compression, and elevation), anti-inflammatory pain medications, and knee-strengthening exercises.
If your meniscus tear is severe, Dr. Coleman may recommend arthroscopic knee surgery. The procedure allows him to remove stray meniscus tissue and other irritating agents from your knee joint. He can also remove or mend weak areas of your meniscus.
Before surgery, Dr. Coleman typically orders imaging tests so he can glean as many details about your condition as possible. This surgical procedure is minimally invasive. Unlike traditional surgery, Dr. Coleman makes very small incisions, into which he inserts a thin tube with a camera on it that allows him to precisely target your treatment area.
He also inserts surgical instruments into the tube to perform the procedure. Minimally invasive surgery allows faster healing and is associated with less scarring, bleeding, and infection risk. Recovery involves plenty of rest and a course of physical therapy to restore full mobility.
No matter what level of meniscus injury you have, don’t put off making an appointment with Dr. Coleman. Call the office location that’s most convenient for you, or book your consultation online.