JoAnn Slosek, a registered nurse from Home & Community Health Services writes a health-related column in the Enfield Press, a weekly community newspaper for Enfield, CT. Her column, Ask Your Nurse JoAnn, features JoAnn’s responses to health related questions from community members, it appears twice each month in the newspaper and we will post the entries here as well!
Q. My son has a torn meniscus. Last week my son-in-law was diagnosed with the same. Now my sister has injured her meniscus! What is going on here? What is a meniscus and why is it so easily injured?
A. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes one to forcefully twist or rotate the knee, especially when putting the pressure of full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus.
Two C-shaped pieces of cartilage known as the menisci (plural of meniscus) lie between the shinbone and the thighbone to stabilize and cushion the knee joint. Any activity (including kneeling, deep squatting or lifting something heavy) causing one to twist the knee, especially with forceful pressure, can lead to a torn meniscus.
Symptoms may include:
- A popping sensation
- Swelling or stiffness
- Pain, especially when twisting or rotating the knee
- Difficulty straightening the knee fully or experiencing what feels like a block to movement of the knee, as if it were locked in place
A torn meniscus can lead to knee instability, the inability to move the knee normally, or persistent knee pain. You also may be more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the injured knee.
- Avoid activities that aggravate the knee pain, especially any activity that may cause one to twist the knee. Crutches may be useful to take pressure off the knee and promote healing.
- Ice can reduce knee pain and swelling. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice cubes for about 15 minutes at a time. Do this every four to six hours the first day or two, and then as often as needed.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers also can help ease knee pain.
Conservative treatment is sometimes enough to relieve the pain of a torn meniscus and give the injury time to heal on its own. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus requires surgical repair.
Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the knee and in the legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint. Arch supports or other shoe inserts can help to distribute force more evenly around the knee or decrease stress on certain areas of the knee.
If knee pain persists, or the knee is stiff or locked, the doctor may recommend surgery. It’s sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus. In other cases, the meniscus is trimmed. Surgery may be done through an arthroscope.
During arthroscopic surgery, the doctor inserts an instrument called an arthroscope through a tiny incision near the knee. The arthroscope contains a light and a small camera, which projects an enlarged image of the inside of your knee onto a monitor. Surgical instruments can be inserted through the arthroscope or through additional small incisions in the knee.
Recovery time following arthroscopic surgery tends to be much faster than it is for open-knee procedures. Many times it is day surgery. Full recovery, however, may take weeks or months and exercises are required to optimize knee strength and stability.
Exercises to strengthen the leg muscles can help stabilize and protect the knee joints. Start slowly, and increase the intensity gradually. Use protective gear when participating in recreational sports.