Sports Medicine: Meniscus Injury
What is a meniscus injury?
A meniscus injury is a chronic or acute disruption of one or both crescent shaped, wedge-like discs of cartilage that provides cushioning and support to the knee. These injuries are often seen in athletes that participate in cutting (sudden change of direction) and jumping sports, such as football, soccer and basketball.
What causes a meniscus injury?
Meniscus injuries are most often caused by a twisting or cutting motion, where the foot stays planted firmly in the ground. They can also be caused by a forced deep knee bend or hyperextension. Stresses placed on the inner side (medial) or outer side (lateral) of the knee can damage the meniscus.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus injury?
Often with a meniscus injury the athlete will feel the knee “pop” or “catch”. There may also be swelling on either side of the knee cap, just below the thigh bone and above the shin in the first 48 hours, accompanied by a loss of movement (range of motion) at the knee. The athlete may experience a recurring feeling that the knee is locking, popping or clicking. Pain along the joint line with a deep knee squat is also an indication of a meniscus injury.
How is a meniscus injury diagnosed?
A meniscus injury is diagnosed through a thorough physical exam consisting of several special tests that stress the meniscus. If these tests are positive, the physician might order x-rays and/or an MRI to determine the extent of the damage to the meniscus. The MRI may also help aid the physician in determining the treatment options.
What is the treatment for a meniscus injury?
The treatment options differ depending on the severity and the location of the meniscus injury. If the injury is minor, the physician may choose to treat it conservatively with the PRICE method combined with activity modification. If the damage to the meniscus is causing discomfort, swelling, or mechanical symptoms like popping or clicking, surgery may be recommended.
There are a couple of options if surgery is required. Depending on several factors, the surgeon may do a repair of the meniscus. This is less common because the majority of the meniscus lacks a good blood supply to support the repair. The recovery time from this operation is long — usually 3 months — but it is a good option because it keeps the full meniscus intact. The other option is a menisectomy, which is required if the tear is in a portion of the meniscus with a poor blood supply. For a menisectomy, the surgeon shaves down the area of damaged meniscus to prevent it from catching and tearing further. The recovery time from this operation is generally 4–6 weeks, much shorter than the meniscal repair.
What is the long-term outlook for a meniscus injury?
Most athletes are able to return to activity following a meniscus injury. It is important to strictly adhere to the treatment guidelines set forth by the physician. There is a chance for an earlier onset of arthritis with meniscus injuries, so it is important to continue to take care of the injured area once the athlete returns to activity.