Meniscal tears and injuries – cause and treatment

The meniscus, or rather menisci (as there are two of them in each knee joint) comprise two crescent-shaped cartilage disks. They act as the knee’s shock absorbers and stabilize the joint during movement. Although these cartilage disks provide an efficiently operating system, it is easy to sustain a meniscal tear. Sportspeople involved in contact sports, such as soccer and handball, are at particular risk of this. However, changes to the meniscus can also occur as a result of overexertion over a lengthy period, known as degenerative meniscal injuries. These degenerative meniscal injuries are often part of osteoarthritis, which means that the knee joint’s cartilage will be worn down. Fortunately, there is a course of rehab designed specifically for meniscal injuries. There are also specific, supervised exercises for degenerative meniscal injuries and osteoarthritis.

Causes of meniscal injuries

There are several causes of meniscal injuries. Since the meniscus acts as a shock absorber that distributes the strain on the actual knee joint, it is subject to a high degree of wear and tear. An injury can occur, for instance, if the knee joint is subject to a sudden, uncontrolled, heavy twisting movement, as happens with a sports injury or when someone jumps incorrectly. If the meniscal injury is so serious that it causes it to break, this can cause pain with any exertion on the knee joint, especially involving twisting movements. The damaged part can also become lodged in the knee joint. This can cause it typically to lock and slip, which can happen when the knee joint is bent. Typical symptoms indicating that you have injured your meniscus are pain upon exertion during movements, when you bend the knee joint while twisting the knee. You will often notice this, for instance, when going up stairs or squatting down.

Sometimes the injured knee becomes swollen as the body produces more synovial fluid to lubricate the irritated meniscus. Meniscal injuries can affect people at all ages. However, it is mainly young people, active sportspeople, and those whose knees and other joints are subject to heavy, regular exertion who are at risk.

On the other hand, degenerative meniscal injuries frequently occur as part of osteoarthritis resulting from long-term overexertion. This mainly occurs among slightly older people. This is because the meniscus becomes more worn over time, which means that it can break more easily.

Exercises for a meniscal injury

Many people who are used to exercising often may feel frustrated when they sustain a meniscal injury. The reason for this is that it is important to be careful while exercising during the healing process so as to avoid unnecessary risks that will aggravate the condition. In the case of a severe injury, all forms of exercise should be halted for a period and replaced by rehabilitation exercises. These rehabilitation exercises can be provided by a physiotherapist. This is beneficial as part of the healing process. It is always a good idea to have a diagnosis made to ensure you get the right type of treatment and avoid the pain getting worse.

Actions and rehab

Anyone with an injured meniscus should avoid putting a strain on their knee as far as possible to avoid pain. If you experience pain and swelling around the knee joint, you should contact a doctor or physiotherapist. They will be able to make a correct diagnosis using different tests and by taking a typical medical history. If there is any doubt about the diagnosis or long-term problems are involved and surgery is being considered, an MRI scan is sometimes carried out. This makes it possible to gain a more accurate picture of the extent of the meniscal injury. The treatment will generally involve rehabilitation exercises with a physiotherapist, which will heal the meniscal injury for the majority of patients. The healing time often takes several months.

In the case of a serious injury, a surgical procedure may be appropriate in the form of an arthroscopy, also known as keyhole surgery. This procedure is carried out as day surgery. This means that the patient can leave the hospital the same day. During an arthroscopy, a crack in the meniscus can be repaired by suturing the injured part but, in the majority of cases, the injured parts are removed. However, if the meniscal injury is caused by osteoarthritis, this is not a suitable procedure as osteoarthritis very often dominates the symptoms and it cannot be cured using keyhole surgery. Therefore, patients are advised against keyhole surgery if they also have osteoarthritis. In these cases, only supervised exercises are recommended instead.

When is the right time for surgery?

Generally speaking, knee surgery is only an option after rehabilitation with a physiotherapist has failed to deliver any results. The exception to this is major traumatic meniscal injuries where the knee locks immediately, in which case the patient goes for surgery immediately due to the pronounced symptoms. You can expect the knee to resume its normal function roughly 4-6 weeks after surgery.

Osteoarthritis resulting from a meniscal injury

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease in the world, causing such symptoms as discomfort, stiffness, and pain. Pain is often felt in the knee both during movement and, eventually, when sitting still. Osteoarthritis often develops after the affected joint has been subject to a long-term, unacceptable strain. However, this condition can also develop as a consequence of old injuries, such a meniscal injury. This is known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis. If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should go to your health center for a diagnosis.

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