Meniscus Injury Overview
Meniscus injuries of the knee – commonly meniscus tears or meniscus strains – are common among both athletes and non-athletes. A meniscus injury or a lack of a meniscus can lead to osteoarthritis.
The knee joint has two menisci that function as important shock absorbers to the knee to prevent joint overload:
- Medial meniscus – on the inside of the knee
- Lateral meniscus on the outside of the knee
In the form of a C-shape, the meniscus is wedged between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone) to help maintain balance and stability. In other words, the menisci help distribute the weight of the body appropriately across the knee joint. Without the meniscus, an uneven weight distribution would occur leading to overload of the cartilage surfaces.
A meniscus injury can occur by way of tears and strains, some of these injuries are mild and can be treated conservatively, while others are serious and will require surgical intervention. Typically, a torn meniscus is caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. Meniscus injuries are most commonly seen in soccer, football, basketball and skiing,
When the meniscus is torn, the patient may feel a “pop” in the knee. In most cases patients can still walk, and some athletes can continue playing with a torn meniscus. Gradually, the knee will become more stiff and swollen over the course of several hours to days.
Symptoms of a meniscus injury:
The most important thing to determine when there is a meniscus tear is if it was preexisting or if it is a new tear. Preexisting tears may be stable and degenerative and may not need surgery. However, with an acute injury where there is associated pain, especially at the joint line, one has to be concerned about a possible meniscus tear. Signs of a meniscus tear can include:
- A lack of being able to straighten one’s knee out with a bucket handle tear
- Difficulty putting weight on knee because of pain like a pebble in your shoe sensation along the joint line
- Pain in the very back of one’s knee with deep knee flexion, which may indicate a posterior horn meniscus tear or a meniscus root tear.
- Pain with kicking (like a soccer ball) may indicate a medial meniscus tear
- Pain when putting one’s leg into a figure-of-4 position on the outside of the knee may indicate a lateral meniscus tear.
- Stiffness and swelling
- Catching or locking of the knee
- Limited range of motion
There are multiple other scenarios that can be present for meniscus tears, but these are one of the most common that present to us for evaluation.