Best Treatment Options For a Meniscus Tear

Your knee joints are critical to your health. If you’re normally active or play sports but start feeling pain in your knee, you’ll want to know what’s going on. The pain may worsen when you turn a certain way or when you flex and bend your knee. You may hear a popping sound or notice swelling at the site. That means it’s time to get help.

One of our expert physicians here at Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine can help diagnose the source of your pain, including meniscus tears. Our teams here in Cincinnati, Oxford, and Sardinia, Ohio, are all well-equipped to treat this common type of knee injury, especially for athletes. 

What is the meniscus?

Your menisci are thick pieces of cartilage around your knee joint that cushion the space between your thigh bone (the femur) and your shin bone. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘bone on bone’ pertaining to someone’s knee, it means their cartilage is so worn down that the bones are rubbing together, causing extreme pain. 

Your meniscus cartilage is the shock absorber between your bones that enables you to walk, jog, bend, play sports, and carry out your normal activities. 

Risk factors for meniscus tears

People who play sports are at higher risk for meniscus injuries. Sports like tennis, racquetball, basketball, or football all depend on quick pivoting, twisting, and stopping suddenly, movements which can cause the meniscus to stretch abnormally or tear. 

This is because running and stopping suddenly can make the end of your thigh bone grind into the top of your shin bone, squeezing the cartilage to the point that it tears. If you’re into weightlifting, your meniscus can also weaken and tear from repeated squats.   

Another risk factor is age. Experts believe that more than half of people over the age of 65 have a meniscus tear; it just may not necessarily be causing problems. As you age, your cartilage gradually loses sufficient blood supply and weakens. About 20 percent of blood supply to the meniscus is gone by the time you turn 40, and the process continues as you get older.

Being overweight is another risk factor for meniscus damage. Your knees support most of your body’s weight. Every pound over your normal weight places four pounds of extra pressure on your knees. So if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re putting 200 pounds of excess pressure on your knee joints. 

What are the best treatment options for a meniscus tear? 

Treatment for a meniscus tear depends partly on where the tear is located. Your menisci are shaped like two inverted letter C’s, so part of the cartilage is on the outside of the knee, while some of it is deep within the knee. 

The part that’s on the outside of your leg has better blood supply than the part on the inside, and it usually can be treated with nonsurgical methods. If it does require surgery, it can be repaired by sewing the tissue back together. If the torn cartilage is on the inside section, it typically doesn’t have adequate blood supply to heal, and the torn edges need to be trimmed off. 

Conservative therapy 

Unless you have a severe injury or you’re a professional athlete who has to get back in the game as soon as possible, one of our physicians will start you with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method to help your meniscus heal. 

Over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help reduce swelling and pain. You’ll want to stay off the leg as much as possible for several days and keep it elevated. 

Once the initial inflammation has subsided, your Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine physician recommends gentle exercises or physical therapy sessions if needed. A physical therapist engages you in an exercise program that strengthens the muscles around your knee, to help keep your knee joint stable in the future. 

A cortisone injection can also help ease the pain if it’s not resolving with the RICE method and gentle exercise. 

Structural problems in your feet can put abnormal pressure on your knees, causing the cartilage to weaken. Abnormalities in your walking gait caused by foot problems or other issues can also stress your knee cartilage. Your doctor may recommend orthotics, which are prescription shoe inserts that help distribute your weight properly when you’re on your feet.  

Surgery 

If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t work, your physician may discuss surgery.  Your Welllington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine physician is highly experienced in conducting knee arthroscopies, which are minimally invasive surgeries. 

If possible, your surgeon knits the cartilage together. However, if that’s not an option, he or she will trim the torn edges of your cartilage so that it’s smooth again. Preserving cartilage is the goal - when a significant amount of cartilage is removed, there’s a greater chance of getting arthritis in your knee as you grow older. 

If you’re located in the Greater Cincinnati area, call Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine today or request an appointment online to get the best treatment for all of your orthopedic needs. 

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