Broken meniscus: overview and more

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Meniscus tear can occur due to trauma or degenerative processes such as aging. The meniscus is a type of cartilage in the knee joint. The meniscus is placed between the cartilaginous surfaces of the bone to distribute weight and improve joint stability. This is important because the knee joint is used in most activities. Learn what happens when the meniscus tears and how to treat those tears.

Get Medication Information / Gary Foerster

Anatomy of the knee and meniscus.

The knee joint is made up of three bones: the femur (femur), the tibia (lower leg), and the kneecap (kneecap). The surfaces of these bones in the joint are covered with a layer of cartilage. This important surface allows the bones to glide smoothly against each other without damaging the bones. Your knee has two menisci; each is between the femur and the tibia , with the medial meniscus on the inside of the knee and the lateral meniscus on the outside of the knee.

The meniscus is made of strong cartilage and coincides with the surface of the bones on which it rests. The meniscus distributes body weight over the knee joint. Without the meniscus, your body weight would be distributed unevenly over the bones of your legs (femur and tibia). This uneven weight distribution will cause undue stress on certain areas of the bone, leading to early arthritis of the knee joint , which is why the function of the meniscus is critical to knee health.

The meniscus is C-shaped and wedge-shaped. The tapered profile helps maintain joint stability by preventing the rounded thigh from sliding on the flat tibial surface. The meniscus feeds on small blood vessels, but the meniscus also has a large central area that does not have a direct (avascular) blood supply. This is a problem with meniscus damage because the avascular areas do not heal. Without the essential nutrients supplied by the blood vessels, healing of the meniscus is not possible.

Meniscus tear symptoms

People who experience a meniscus tear often experience pain and swelling as the main symptoms. Another common complaint is joint lockdown or the inability to fully straighten the joint. This is because the torn cartilage physically interferes with the normal movement of the knee.

The most common symptoms of a meniscus tear are:

Causes

The two most common causes of meniscus tear are related to traumatic injury (often seen in athletes) and degenerative processes (seen in older patients with more fragile cartilage) .

It is not uncommon for a meniscus to tear along with other injuries within the knee. Injuries commonly occur to structures that include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL). When all three injuries occur together, they are known as the unfortunate triad , a pattern of injuries seen in sports like soccer where a player is hit on the outside of the knee .

Diagnostics

Any patient with knee pain will be examined for a possible meniscus tear. A careful history and physical examination can help distinguish patients with a meniscus tear from those with knee pain from other conditions. Your healthcare provider may perform special tests to look for meniscus tears.

X-rays and MRIs are two tests that are commonly used in patients with meniscal tears. X-rays can be used to check for signs of knee arthritis. An MRI can help you see a tear in the meniscus. However, just seeing a torn meniscus on an MRI does not necessarily mean that special treatment is needed. Treatment for a meniscus tear depends on several factors, as not all meniscus tears require surgery.

Torn meniscus or torn cartilage?

The covering of the bone in the joint and the meniscus are made up of cartilage. However, these are different types of cartilage. People often say that cartilage means meniscus (the wedges of cartilage between the bone) or the surface of the joint (called articular cartilage that covers the ends of the bone).

When people talk about a cartilage tear, they usually mean a meniscus tear . When people talk about arthritis and worn cartilage, the most common thing is to talk about articular cartilage at the ends of the bone .

Watch out

Treatment for a meniscus tear depends on several factors, including the type of tear, the patient's activity level, and the response to simple treatments. When surgical treatment of a torn meniscus is required, the usual treatment is to trim the torn part of the meniscus , a procedure called a meniscectomy. Meniscus repair and transplantation are also surgical options. Choosing the most appropriate meniscus tear treatment is something you can discuss with your doctor.

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