Understanding Knee Meniscus Injuries: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Injuries to the knee joint are common and can cause significant pain, instability, and swelling. One type of knee injury that frequently occurs is a meniscal tear. The meniscus is a crescent-shaped disc of cartilage tissue that plays a crucial role in cushioning and distributing weight in the knee joint. In athletes, rigorous physical activity often makes them more vulnerable to a meniscus injury.

A meniscus tear can be classified based on the severity and location of the tear. The three primary categories are longitudinal, bucket-handle, and radial tears. Each type of tear requires a tailored approach to treatment, whether it be physical therapy, medication, or surgical intervention.

To help provide an understanding of knee meniscus injuries and their causes, we’ll take a closer look at their causes, symptoms, and treatment. By doing so, you will be able to make informed decisions about your health, interventions, and recovery.

What is a Meniscus Injury and How Does it Happen?

A meniscus injury occurs when the meniscus, a C-shaped fibrocartilage in the knee, tears. The meniscus serves to cushion the knee joint and maintain stability. Various factors can lead to meniscus tears, including forceful twisting or rotation of the knee, deep squats, heavy lifting, or direct impact. Additionally, aging and degeneration of the meniscus can increase the risk of tears.

Common symptoms of a meniscus tear include:

  • Pain (especially when twisting the knee)
  • Swelling
  • Clicking sound in straightening and bending the knee
  • Difficulty in straightening and bending knee fully
  • A tendency to get knee-locked in place
  • A feeling of the knee giving way
  • Poor toleration in squatting and kneeling

What is a Meniscus?

A meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage located in the knee joint. It acts as a cushion and stabiliser between the shinbone and thighbone. The knee has two of these menisci. The meniscus plays several important roles in the knee joint. It helps distribute body weight evenly, reduces friction, and enhances joint stability during activities like walking, running, and jumping.

Identifying the Signs and Symptoms of Knee Meniscus Injuries

A knee meniscus injury is characterised by symptoms such as localised pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, joint instability, popping sensations, joint locking or catching, or a combination of these. Knowing what to look for makes it possible to seek proper medical attention before any injury progresses.

What Does a Meniscus Tear Feel Like?

A meniscus tear can feel like a popping or snapping sensation in the knee, accompanied by immediate pain and swelling. The affected individual may also experience difficulty bending or straightening the leg, joint locking or catching, popping sensations, instability, swelling, or limited range of motion.

What Causes the Meniscus Tear?

Meniscus tears are caused by various factors such as traumatic injuries or degenerative changes in the knee joint. Any activity that forcefully twists or rotates the knee, such as pivoting or cutting movements during sports activities like basketball or soccer, can lead to a torn meniscus.

Meniscus tears can also occur during heavy lifting, deep squatting, or in older individuals due to the weakening of the meniscus due to arthritis. In some cases, a meniscus tear may occur gradually over time due to wear and tear on the knee joint from normal daily activities.

Seeking Diagnosis: Tests and Examinations for Meniscal Tears

When diagnosing meniscal tears, healthcare providers typically use a combination of physical examinations, imaging tests, and sometimes arthroscopy. During a physical examination, the healthcare provider will assess symptoms, check for tenderness along the joint line, and perform specific manoeuvres like the McMurray test. A positive result on the McMurray test, where pain or clicking is elicited during knee movements, can indicate a meniscal tear.

Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are commonly used to diagnose meniscal tears. MRI provides detailed images of the knee’s structures, allowing healthcare providers to visualise the presence and extent of the tear. X-rays may also be used to rule out other knee problems, although they do not directly show the meniscus tear. Lastly, in some cases, arthroscopy may be performed. This involves inserting a small camera into the knee joint to directly visualise and assess the meniscus tear, particularly when the tear is complex.

Treatment Options for Knee Meniscus Injuries: Non-Surgical and Surgical Approaches

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the tear and can range from rest, ice, and physical therapy to surgical intervention. In some cases, meniscus tears can be associated with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, which often occur during activities involving abrupt changes in direction or jumping. Understanding the causes and symptoms of meniscus injuries is crucial for prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment to prevent further complications.

Physiotherapy Treatment for a Meniscus Tear

Physiotherapy treatment can usually benefit a small meniscus tear in the region with blood supply. If the meniscus injury requires surgical repair, physiotherapy can also help with pre-surgery maintenance and post-surgery rehab.

Physiotherapy treatment can help:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation;
  • Regain knee range of motion;
  • Strengthen the muscles for shock absorption;
  • Improve the proprioception and balance to provide dynamical stability;
  • Improve lower limb alignment;
  • Minimise the chance of re-injury.

Rehabilitation and Recovery: Steps to Heal from a Meniscus Injury

Rehabilitation and recovery from a meniscus injury typically involve a combination of rest, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery. The specific course of treatment will depend on factors such as the severity of the injury, the location of the tear, and the age and activity level of the individual.

The first step in healing from a meniscus injury is often to rest and protect the knee from further injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, healthcare providers may recommend using crutches, wearing a brace, or avoiding certain activities. Physical therapy may also be recommended to improve knee strength and flexibility. This may involve exercises such as straight leg raises, hamstring curls and calf raises, designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee joint.

Other steps to help heal from a meniscus injury may include:

  • Ice: Applying ice or a cold pack to the knee can help reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Compressive bandages: Wrapping the knee with an elastic bandage can help reduce swelling and provide support for the joint.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair or remove the torn meniscus.

It is important to closely follow the healthcare provider’s recommendations for treatment and rehabilitation in order to promote healing and prevent future injury to the knee.

What May Happen if a Torn Meniscus is Not Treated?

If a torn meniscus is left untreated, it can lead to several consequences. For example, an untreated tear can increase in size and severity, which may result in permanent knee damage. This can cause severe pain, and limited mobility, and may require more invasive treatments such as surgery.

Additionally, an untreated meniscus tear can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the affected knee, which involves the degeneration of the cartilage and can cause chronic pain, stiffness, and joint swelling.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Meniscus Injury?

The recovery time for a meniscus injury can vary depending on the severity of the injury as well as the course of treatment taken. For minor tears, recovery without surgery may take about 6 to 8 weeks. More severe injuries and those requiring surgery may take significantly longer to heal, with some patients needing up to 6 months or more to fully recover.

The rehabilitation process may take additional time and involve physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, as well as protect the knee from further injury. Progressive rehabilitation programs can help regain strength, mobility, and range of motion and can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs.

Preventing Knee Meniscus Injuries: Tips For Athletes And Active Individuals

Preventing knee meniscus injuries is important for athletes and active individuals who want to maintain their physical well-being. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of knee meniscus injuries:

  • Strengthen the muscles around the knee: Strong muscles, particularly those in the quadriceps and hamstrings, can provide better support and stability to the knee joint. Include exercises that target these muscle groups in your regular fitness routine.
  • Practise proper landing and jumping techniques: If you participate in sports or activities that involve jumping, such as basketball or volleyball, learn and practise proper landing techniques to minimise stress on the knee joint. Bend your knees when landing and ensure your feet are aligned with your knees.
  • Warm up and stretch: Prior to engaging in physical activity or exercise, take the time to warm up your muscles with dynamic stretches and light aerobic movements. This helps increase blood flow and flexibility, preparing your body for the upcoming activity.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: Use proper athletic shoes that provide good support and cushioning for your specific activity. The right footwear can help reduce the impact on your knees during sports and exercise.
    Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can put additional stress on your knee joints. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the load on your knees and minimise the risk of meniscus injuries.
  • Avoid sudden changes in direction: When participating in sports that involve quick changes in direction, like soccer or tennis, be cautious and try to avoid sudden pivoting or twisting motions that can strain the knee joint. Instead, focus on fluid and controlled movements.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort, pain, or instability in your knees. If you experience any issues, rest and seek appropriate medical attention. Ignoring symptoms can lead to further injury.

Living With a Meniscus Injury: Coping Strategies and Lifestyle Adjustments

Living with a meniscus injury can be challenging, but there are coping strategies and lifestyle adjustments that can help you manage the condition and improve your quality of life. Here are some tips:

  • Rest and protect your knee: Give your knee ample time to heal by avoiding activities that put excessive strain on it. Use crutches or assistive devices if necessary to reduce weight-bearing on the injured knee.
  • Follow a structured rehabilitation program: Work closely with a physical therapist to develop a rehabilitation plan tailored to your specific injury. This may include exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles, improve the range of motion, and enhance stability in the knee joint.
  • Modify your activities: Adjust your daily activities to avoid those that exacerbate your symptoms or put stress on your knee. Consider alternative forms of exercise that are gentle on the knee, such as swimming or cycling.
  • Use pain management techniques: Apply ice packs to the affected area to reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter pain medications or prescribe stronger pain relief options if necessary.
  • Practise good posture and body mechanics: Maintain proper posture and body mechanics to minimise strain on your knee joint. Use correct lifting techniques, avoid prolonged periods of kneeling or squatting, and use supportive footwear.
  • Consider assistive devices: Depending on the severity of your meniscus injury, your doctor may recommend using a knee brace or orthotic device to provide stability and support during activities.
  • Seek emotional support: Living with a meniscus injury can be emotionally challenging. Seek support from friends, family, or a support group to share your experiences and emotions. Speaking with a mental health professional can also provide valuable guidance and coping strategies.

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice and guidance based on your specific injury. They can offer additional recommendations and treatments to help you manage your meniscus injury and improve your overall well-being.

Get the Help That You Need

At CCHN, we understand the impact that a meniscus injury can have on your daily life and overall well-being. Our skilled team of healthcare professionals, including orthopaedic specialists, physical therapists, and pain management experts, are dedicated to helping you effectively manage your meniscus injury and facilitate the healing process.

We offer a range of services and treatments and provide personalised care, tailored plans, and ongoing support throughout your recovery journey. By choosing CCHN, you can trust that you will receive quality care and guidance to help you recover from your meniscus injury and regain your mobility and quality of life.

Get in touch today.