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Meniscus 101: How to Safeguard Your Knees

Meniscus tears are one of the most common types of knee injuries, and there are some risk factors — such as age — that you can’t control. But there are precautions that you can take. Understanding the anatomy of your knee and the function of the meniscus is a good way to start in learning how to protect it.

Where the meniscus is and what it does

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that serves as a cushion between your thigh bone and your shinbone. You have a meniscus on the inner side of each knee, called the medial meniscus, and one on the outer side of each knee called the lateral meniscus.

Usually, a meniscus tear happens when you twist your knee, for example, when you change directions suddenly while running. In many cases, a meniscus tear happens at the same time as another injury, such as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. You may not be immediately aware that you’ve been injured, but the knee joint will soon become swollen and sore.

Sometimes, depending on the severity and location of the tear, bits of the cartilage can get caught in the knee joint, causing it to lock. Treatment depends on how bad the tear is, and can range from rest to surgery.

Factors that increase your risk of a meniscus tear

There are several things that make it more likely you’ll have a meniscus tear. Some are controllable, and some are not.

Age is a risk factor. The older you are, the more likely you’ll tear your meniscus because the cartilage thins with age. Some 40% of people over the age of 65 have had a meniscus tear.

Certain activities increase your risk. For example, if your job requires you to be in a squatting position for extended periods of time each day, your risk of a meniscus injury is higher than average. Sports that require you to pivot or jump, as well as contact sports such as football, all increase the possibility of a meniscus tear.

Safeguarding your knees against meniscus tears

Obviously, you can’t do anything about getting older, but there are some steps you can take to keep your knees as healthy as possible.

Stay flexible. Flexibility training, whether it’s in the form of yoga, tai chi, or a set of exercises prescribed by Dr. Nolan or a physical therapist, will help keep your joints healthy.

Strengthen your muscles. Keep the muscles that support your knees strong and healthy. Your quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf muscles all support your knees. Strong, flexible muscles help protect the structures of your knees, including the meniscus tissues.

Do a warm-up first. Before you do any kind of activity, warm up your muscles. A careful warm-up prepares your muscles and helps protect your joints. Take time to cool down following activity, as well.

Be sure to rest. Giving your body time to recover between workouts is essential. When your muscles are fatigued, they don’t protect your joints as well.

Wear properly fitting shoes. Supportive shoes can help protect you against injury. Shoes that provide the correct amount and type of support are critical in safeguarding your knees against meniscus injury.

Take it slow. If you want to increase the intensity of your activity, do so gradually. If you suddenly begin doing harder workouts, you increase the possibility of injury.

If you’ve already hurt your knee, come in to see Dr. Nolan for expert diagnosis and treatment. Just call our office in Sugar Land, Texas, or click the “request appointment” button here on the website.

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