Knee Pain Due to Meniscal Injury: What You Need To Know
What is the meniscus of the knee? What is a meniscus injury?
Knee pain due to meniscal injury is one of the most common knee injuries related to sports or other athletic activities. Each knee joint has two C-shaped cartilage menisci. These act as cushions and shock absorbers between the thigh bone and shin bone. Injury (tearing) of one or sometimes both menisci leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness in the knee. The risk of developing a meniscus tear increases with age due to the degeneration of cartilage.
What are the causes of Meniscal Injury?
Any forceful rotation, bending or twisting, or lifting of heavy objects lead to a torn meniscus. A torn meniscus may necessarily not be sudden but may take time to develop. Certain situations that put an individual at increased risk of developing meniscus injury include:
- Playing sports such as football or any other athletic activity
- Putting too much weight on the knee (obesity or weight lifting)
- Old age due to the degeneration of cartilage
- A previous knee injury such as anterior cruciate ligament injury
What are the symptoms of Meniscal Injury?
If you a meniscal injury (tear), you may experience the following symptoms:
- A popping or catching sensation at the time of injury or afterward
- Swelling, tenderness, and stiffness in the joint
- Localized pain depending upon the side of meniscal injury
- Pain when rotating, twisting, or bending the knee
- Difficulty bending or straightening the knee and the knee feels locked
- Knee feels unstable
- Symptoms gradually increase in severity
How to make a diagnosis of Meniscal Injury?
Your doctor will make the diagnosis based on the following:
- Symptoms of pain, swelling, and stiffness
- Medical history that tells the doctor about your activities, any previous knee injury, or osteoarthritis
- Physical examination to check for swelling, joint line tenderness, and range of motion. Your doctor will perform the McMurray test in which he will bend and straighten the leg and rotate it. It is to check for a popping sound that indicates a meniscal tear.
- Imaging tests: X-rays are useless in detecting meniscal injury but help rule out similar knee injuries or arthritis. MRIs are best at detecting a meniscal tear, but sometimes it does not help. So the doctor may also recommend an ultrasound.
What is the prognosis of Meniscal Injury?
It depends upon how big the meniscal tear is. With non-surgical options, recovery may take six to eight weeks. But it may take longer with surgery. People with meniscal injury have an increased risk of developing knee arthritis.
What are the treatments of Meniscal Injury?
Your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
- Rest to prevent further damage to the menisci. The doctor will recommend stopping activities that cause pain. Don’t do any knee exercises particularly in early phase.
- Apply ice and heat alternatively when awake every two to three hours to reduce pain and swelling
- Knee elevation above the heart level to reduce blood flow to the knee. He will also recommend knee compression with an elastic bandage or straps. These are to reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as naproxen may also help.
- Physical therapy to strengthen leg muscles, restore the range of joint movements and reduce other symptoms related to the meniscal injury.
- Platelet rich plasma injection- This may help in partial tear of meniscus.
- Surgery: It depends upon the severity of your condition and is only recommended if other options fail. Surgery is performed to repair the torn meniscus or trim it. It is not recommended for children and young adults. For older people, knee replacement surgery may be necessary.