Meniscus Injuries in the knee
By Robert Marx, MD, MSC, FRCSC
Next time you squat (or jump or kick), thank your cartilage. This elastic tissue, located on the ends of the thigh bone (femur) and leg bone (tibia), is responsible for allowing the knee to bend and straighten in a smooth and fluid fashion. That type of cartilage is similar to the smooth, shiny surface on the end of a chicken bone, but there's another type of cartilage in the knee called the meniscus. Located between teh ends of the bones, it acts as a shock absorber and stabillzer. And it's a structure you don't want to damage - studies have shown that if the entire meniscus is removed, the knee can develop arthritis.
How it happens
Despite our best intenitons, the meniscus ifs frequently injured while playing sports or while lifting in the gym. The most common injury results from a rapid twisting of the knee, but it can occur many other ways such as through forceful flexion, like when a lifter hits the deep full squat position hard and bounces back up. Insome cases, there may not be a specific injury, but the meniscus can tear due to repitive loads and chronic degeneration.
How it feels
A torn meniscus is often painful because loose ends of cartilage can get trapped in the knee. Sometimes the torn piece can create mechanical catching or locking of the knee, requiring maneuvering to "unlock" it and allow motion. In other cases, a piece of the meniscus can break of and become a "lose body" that can also lead to catching or locking Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is helpful in confirming the diagnosis and determining the best course of treatment.
How its fixed
After the onset of symptoms, a round of physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications may be warranted. However, mechanical symptoms such as catching and locking will resolve only if the offending fragment of tissue is removed, generally by arthroscopic surgery. The procedure is performed through two small holes (each measuring less than a centimeter) in the knee. A camera is inserted into the knee through one hold, and surgical instruments are inserted through the other. The torn pieces are then either repaired or removed.
How it recovers
Following the surgery, rehabilitation is undertaken with a physical theraptist. The intial steps are to reduce swelling and regain full motion of the knee. Crutches are generally required for a few days, but most patients are walking normally within 1-2 weks of surgery. Strenghtening is an important part of the rehabilitation process, and atheletes are generally able to return to their sports within three months. Professional athletes who are in top shape and can dedicate each day to rehabiliation can return to play within a week or two in some cases, depending on thier sport.
Why I wrote this you ask? I feel like it has happened to me, but in a less serious way. I think it was due to playing basketball. My (right only) knee hurts a few hours after playing, and the following day I have trouble walking. I feel like I pulled something, after stretching it will help temporarily but it does help. Could it possibly be this? I want to have it checked out soon.