The meniscus is a disc-shaped piece of cartilage in between the two major bones of the knee. There are two meniscus– one on the inner side of the knee, and one on the outer side of the knee. The meniscus serves as a cushion and a shock absorber. Injuries involving the meniscus are one of the most common types of problems that an orthopedic surgeon will see.
As we age, the meniscus turns more brittle and less spongy, making it more prone to tearing. Activities, especially sports, can put stresses on the meniscus and lead to tears.
In most cases, an acute meniscus tear causes pain on either the inner or outer side of the knee, or in the back of the knee. Oftentimes, patients will feel a sudden pop or a click in the knee if the meniscus tear is acute. Commonly, patients will develop pain, worsening over the next 24 hours, with mild or moderate swelling. A small meniscus tear can continue to tear on a longer term basis. This is called a chronic meniscus tear.
Chronic tears of the meniscus can lead to pain with walking, especially when twisting or changing direction. It often can give the sensation that the knee is giving way or giving out. This may interfere with the ability to do sporting activities, squatting, or even simply walking or standing for long periods of time. The meniscus, in some instances, can actually get stuck and prevent the knee from bending or straightening fully. When this happens, it is a more acute problem.
The initial treatment, for most cases of a suspected meniscus tear, usually involves rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. An MRI is the best way to diagnose the meniscus tear. If non-surgical treatment fails to improve the symptoms, then surgery is an option to treatment a meniscus tear.