Meniscus Tear Treatments

What is a Meniscus Tear?

The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in your knee that cushions and stabilizes your joint; it protects the knee from wear and tear. There are two parts, the medial and lateral meniscus, that are each a C-shaped piece of cartilage in the knee joint. A simple twist of the knee on a fixated surface can cause this to tear. A meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries. Occasionally, a loose piece of the meniscus will get stuck in the knee and cause the knee to lock up and cause pain. More than 40% of people over 65 have sustained a meniscus tear.

Image of the anatomy of the knee with labelled parts including meniscusImage of Human Knee Anatomy

Meniscal Tear Symptoms

Signs that may indicate a tear and needing meniscus tear treatment include:

  • Knee pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Locking up of the knee.
  • A pop during the injury.
  • Difficulty bending/straightening knee.

Diagnosing a Meniscal Tear

The diagnosis of a meniscus tear begins with a history and physical examination by your MD. If there is an acute injury, the doctor will ask about how the injury happened to help understand the stresses that were placed on the knee. An MRI is the best option to view a meniscal tear. The MRI can view soft tissue while x rays view the bone (not cartilage) and cannot tell you if your meniscus is torn. However, an x-ray can assist in ruling out other pathologies that could be causing similar pain/symptoms. If your doctor has clinically diagnosed you with a tear, physical therapy may be prescribed or knee surgery might be the next step for your recovery.  

Illustration of a meniscus in the human knee. JOI RehabIllustration of a Human Meniscus

Meniscus Tear Treatments 

Conservative treatment is the first option for meniscus tear treatment. RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and over the counter pain medications or anti-inflammatories are usually recommended to help decrease pain and any swelling in the area.  

Physical therapy may be prescribed by your physical to assist in returning to normal function. Physical therapy will teach you exercises and stretches to strengthen and stabilize the joint to decrease pain and prevent re-injury. Physical therapy will also assist you with strengthening your legs, including your knee, hip and glute muscles. A physical therapist can help you return to exercising and heavy activities in approximately 4 to 6 weeks if you remain compliant with what physical therapy demands. 

Surgery for a Torn Meniscus

If conservative treatment has failed with helping decreasing pain and improving function, surgery can be recommended by your MD. There are two very common surgical procedures. 

  • First, we will describe what a meniscectomy is. This is when part of the meniscus is removed to decrease pain being caused by the torn piece of the meniscus. 
  • Second is a meniscal repair. This is when the MD is able to repair it without taking it out. This type of surgery will require you to be on crutches for approximately 6 weeks while a meniscectomy will not require crutches at all. The meniscal repair requires you to use crutches during your treatment because the meniscus is sewn back together with stitches. You must allow this to heal without stressing the meniscus. 

Injection Treatments for a Torn Meniscus

Most recently, doctors have gone to use of Stem Cell and Platelet Rich Protein (PRP) injections for meniscus tear treatments.  

  • Stem Cell treatment of meniscus tears offers patients a minimally invasive same-day injection procedure that may help heal the injured tissue and allow the individual to avoid the painful and lengthy recovery that typically follows surgery.  Stem cells are cells from your own body that can renew themselves and turn into other cells (differentiate). They live inside all of us in various tissues, and leap into action to repair damage as it occurs.  Stem Cell injection are done  by extracting stem cells from an area of high volume, then concentrating the cells and re-injecting them into the damaged area to help the body heal naturally.
  • Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) contains healing components from your own blood that increase your body’s natural ability to repair itself.  Platelet Rich Plasma injection treatments are quite effective because they have a stimulating effect on the stem cells within the targeted area, making those stem cells work harder to heal damaged tissues. To learn more about lateral meniscus tears, please read this article.

By Chad Evans PT

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