When a Torn Meniscus Can't Heal on Its Own

When a Torn Meniscus Can't Heal on Its Own

Some athletes are more familiar with meniscus tears than they would like to be. Meniscus tears are one of the most common knee injuries for both children and adults — about 500,000 people tear their meniscus every year, many of them while playing sports. 

Some meniscus injuries can heal on their own when proper precautions and treatment regimens are followed. However, some tears may be severe enough to warrant further action. If your meniscus won’t heal, it’s time to see an orthopedist. 

Do you have a meniscus injury that won’t heal or that you feel needs a closer look? Come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he discusses meniscus basics, common causes of meniscus tears, symptoms, and how to treat a meniscus tear that won’t heal on its own.

What is the meniscus?

The menisci are the unsung heroes of knee movement. The femur (thighbone), patella (kneecap), and tibia (shinbone) all meet at the point where your leg bends. Menisci are shock-absorbing pieces of cartilage that cushion the area and stop bone-on-bone contact. Additionally, the menisci help to transmit weight from one bone to another and play an important role in knee stability.

Common causes of tears

Acute meniscus tears typically happen when a person suddenly changes direction while running. This can occur with contact sports, like when a football player is tackled, or in non-contact sports like volleyball that require a lot of jumping and quick, cutting movements. 

In some cases, repeatedly squatting to pick up heavy objects can cause a meniscus tear. Meniscus tears often occur at the same time as other knee injuries, such as ACL and MCL tears. 

Like many other pieces of cartilage, the menisci wear down over time. Older people may suffer a meniscus tear from a normal action, like simply twisting their leg too quickly. 

Symptoms

Swelling is a common sign of a meniscus tear. Other symptoms include:

If your knee can’t move normally, a meniscus tear may be part of the problem. 

Treatment

Minor tears on the outer part of the meniscus, especially on younger people, will benefit from the RICE method:

You may also benefit from physical therapy, especially if the meniscus tear occurs with another knee injury. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can help ease the pain. 

Tears that won’t heal

The outside of the meniscus has a rich blood supply and access to blood cells that help regenerate new meniscus tissue and spur healing. 

The inside of the meniscus, however, is blood-poor and may take a long time to heal on its own, if it ever does. For meniscus tears in this area and severe tears, surgery may be necessary. Dr. Nolan uses knee arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique that requires less recovery time than traditional open surgery, to repair your torn meniscus and get you back to your favorite sports and activities. 

To learn more about meniscus tears and knee arthroscopy, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.

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