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Meniscus Overview: The Basics

In this article, we will provide an overview of key information you need to know about the meniscus. We’ll discuss the anatomy, its function, and common injuries along with associated symptoms and treatment options.

What Is The Meniscus?

     The meniscus is a vital piece of fibrocartilage located between the femur and the tibia, AKA the knee joint or tibiofemoral joint. There are two menisci on each knee: the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) menisci, each with its own role in supporting the knee during various movements. 

     The purpose of each meniscus is to provide stability at the knee joint by improving the congruency, or bony alignment, of the femur to the tibia. Furthermore, each meniscus provides lubrication between the femur and tibia to allow for fluid movement when you bend, extend or rotate your knee. Finally, each meniscus reduces the amount of total force through the knee joint by absorbing and dissipating the force applied.

     Moreover, within the meniscus, there are red and white zones, named due to different levels of blood supply. The red zone, located on the meniscus outer edges, has good blood supply. In contrast, the white zone, situated toward the center of the meniscus, has limited blood supply. The amount of blood supply is important to know for later in this blog when we discuss meniscus tears and treatment options.

Common Causes of Meniscus Tears?

     Meniscus injuries are prevalent and can occur due to both traumatic and non-traumatic reasons. Traumatic tears often happen during activities involving sudden twists or pivots. Meanwhile, non-traumatic tears may result from age-related wear and tear over time. Moreover, there are various types of meniscus tears, such as bucket handle, longitudinal, etc., but we’ll cover those in more detail in a different post.

Signs & Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of a meniscus tear is crucial for seeking appropriate treatment. Common signs include:

  • Pain with walking or weight-bearing activities
  • Joint line tenderness (pain along the line between the femur and tibia)
  • Swelling
  • Mechanical Symptoms: Clicking, Popping, Locking & Catching of the Knee
  • Most significant symptom is locking of the knee, where the torn meniscus gets trapped inside the joint, causing immobility.

Treatment Options

The treatment approach for a meniscus tear depends on various factors, including the severity of the tear, the location of the tear within the meniscus, and the presence of mechanical symptoms.

Conservative or Non-operative Treatment Options:

  • Physical Therapy – Often highly recommended for tears without locking, as studies have shown promising results in the long term compared to surgical options
  • Rest – Promotes healing & decrease irritation/pain initially
  • Use of Supportive Braces/Orthotics – Helps to offload, stabilize & promote healing of the knee
  • Various Injections With Various Purposes: reduce pain/swelling, promote healing, etc.

Surgical Interventions:

     In cases where surgery is necessary, several procedures may be considered. Many times a surgeon will recommend a specific surgery based on the tear location, quality, symptoms, and patient’s goals. Thus the importance of knowing if the tear is in the red or white zone, or if the tear is causing mechanical symptoms.

The more common types of meniscus surgery options you’ll see include:

  • Meniscus Repair – Where the torn portion of the meniscus is stitched back together. Typically only done for tears in the red zones
  • Meniscectomy – Where the damaged part is removed. Typically done when a meniscus tear isn’t feasible.
  • Meniscus Replacement – Replacing the torn portion with donor or synthetic tissue. Typically only done for a complex or chronic history of meniscus issues

Rehab & Recovery

     Regardless of the chosen treatment approach, rehabilitation plays a vital role in recovery. Physical therapy focuses on restoring your strength, flexibility, and function to the knee joint, helping you regain mobility and return to their desired level of activity.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

     A meniscus tear can be a challenging injury to navigate, but with the right knowledge and treatment plan, recovery is possible. By understanding the basics of meniscus anatomy, common causes of tears, symptoms to watch for, and available treatment options, you can take proactive steps towards healing and returning to an active lifestyle.

     If you suspect a meniscus tear or are experiencing symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation. This will allow you to determine the best course of action for your specific situation. Remember, early intervention and proper rehabilitation are key to a successful recovery. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us or a healthcare professional for guidance and support along the way. Let’s take care of our knees and stay informed about meniscus health!

The Basketball Doctors - Gabriel Ignacio Physical Therapist

Dr. Gabriel Ignacio PT, DPT, OCS, TPI

The Basketball Doctors - Marco Lopez Physical Therapist

Dr. Marco Lopez PT, DPT, CSCS

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