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Meniscus Injuries

Dr. Matt Brown
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What is a meniscus injury?

The menisci are the two C-shaped pieces of cartilage that run along either side of the knee, acting as a cushion between the shinbone and the thigh bone. If the knee twists or rotates forcefully, the meniscus can tear, resulting in impaired mobility, swelling, and pain in the knee. Degenerative conditions can also cause (or contribute to) a meniscus injury.

Treatments for a torn or strained meniscus vary. While rest and ice are sometimes enough for the meniscus to heal on its own, some especially severe meniscus injuries may require surgical treatment. Often, meniscus injuries tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and a combination of rest and specialized physical therapy can help the patient to a full recovery.

Source: MayoClinic

Meniscus injury symptoms

When a meniscus tear is caused by a sudden stop or impact, the tear usually occurs immediately, however symptoms don’t always appear until up to 24 hours later. Severe pain and swelling are usually the first to appear, followed by difficulty walking and difficulty straightening the leg comfortably.

If the meniscus tear develops due to repeated stress or a degenerative condition, the pain will usually develop gradually along the meniscus over time. When the meniscus does tear, the patient will likewise experience difficulty walking and swelling or stiffness in the knee.

The most common symptoms of meniscus injuries include:

  • Knee pain
  • Difficulty walking
  • Swelling or stiffness in the knee

Source: Cedars-Sinai

What causes meniscus injuries?

Meniscus injuries are almost always the result of a sudden impact or twist in the knee. For this reason, they’re common in contact sports like football, volleyball, and soccer. Meniscus tears also tend to occur concurrently with other knee injuries, such as an ACL tear.

Age is a substantial risk factor for meniscus injuries as well. Because the meniscus tends to weaken with age, older individuals — especially those over 65 — are much more likely to suffer this injury. Repetitive motions or degenerative conditions can also cause the meniscus to wear down over time, leaving it prone to further injury.

The most common causes of meniscus injuries include:

  • Sudden impact
  • Sudden twisting or changing direction
  • Age
  • Degenerative conditions

Source: WebMD

Physical therapy for meniscus injuries

Physical therapy is the go-to treatment for meniscus tears. Some evidence has even suggested that participating in physical therapy can help many patients avoid surgery altogether. A physical therapist can use various modalities and treatments to control pain and swelling while safely restoring mobility.

While a physical therapist will formulate a plan that’s tailored to the patient, most routines commonly include range of motion exercises, quadriceps strengthening exercises, balance exercises, and low-impact cardiovascular exercises like cycling.

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