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Torn Meniscus: Symptoms and Treatments

27 October 2021

The meniscus functions like a rubber washer but in fact is two pieces, medial (inside) and lateral (outside) due to the two cruciate ligaments being in the middle.

Its function is cushioning and lubrication.

Only the outer twenty percent of a meniscus has a blood supply (healing potential). So if the meniscus is torn on the inner eighty percent healing becomes increasingly unlikely.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

A torn meniscus can displace damaging the adjacent surfaces and thus resulting in inflammation (pain, swelling, stiffness, locking or giving way). Rarely it displaces sufficiently to lock your knee and stop it fully extending

When should you see a doctor for a torn meniscus?

Any persistent knee pain needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional. So once you have been referred to an orthopedic specialist, your history and examination will guide them towards appropriate treatment. Further investigations (Xrays etc) may be necessary where the diagnosis is unclear. But once confirmed, treatment options will then be discussed.

Can a torn meniscus heal itself?

Menisci require blood to heal, so if the tear is towards the outer third then healing potential is determined by the tear pattern (is it repairable), your health (healing potential) and the quality of the meniscal tissue.

It’s a common sporting injury (twisting, changing direction) but it can happen to anyone. Unless your knee is locked, waiting four to six weeks to see if your knee settles is very reasonable.

What are torn meniscus treatment options?

As we age, many tears are the result of degeneration. If un-displaced these are managed conservatively (no surgery). Many degenerative tears (over fifty years of age) are not displaced and require no surgical intervention. This is commonly reported on MRI.s but does not automatically correlate with the requirement for surgery.

Physiotherapy/ rehabilitation cannot heal /fix a meniscal tear but rather optimize the adjacent musculature.

Other non-surgical treatments like rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications may be beneficial.

But, if displaced and causing symptoms /signs in any age group then surgery is required.

The majority of displaced tears (over eight percent) require surgical resection (knee arthroscopy) because they cannot be healed. This involves on average three tiny cuts where instruments and a camera are inserted. It is typically a day surgical procedure where a relative or friend drives you home after the anaesthetic.

Recovery from knee surgery

Your recovery will be discussed in advance and may require rest and crutches while walking. Permission to weight bear depends on the tear type and surgical treatment.

Medication will be provided for the post operative pain, swelling and stiffness. This typically takes up to six weeks to resolve. Post operative visits with your doctor will explain the procedure and explain the photographs taken by the camera inside your knee.

Keep note of anything that feels out of the ordinary so you can report back to the doctor.

If you are suffering unusually severe pain, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Brisbane’s Lane Orthopedic Surgery treats a variety of knee injuries such as a torn meniscus, hip and knee replacements and other joint or tissue injuries. Call us on (07) 3394 4228 to book an appointment today.

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