Are you in pain? Many people experience this symptom of a bone-on-bone or ligament-on-bone pain in one of their knees when walking or running. Meniscal tear is the leading cause of knee pain in athletes. This condition occurs when a person’s meniscus tears and separates from their bones. They can be seen as “shredded” or “torn.” In most cases, they are removed by surgery, and then a replacement may be inserted right into the knee joint to help recover from the injury.
A meniscal tear can occur from various causes. Some common causes include:
- Overuse of the knee joint without maintaining an exercise program to strengthen the muscles needed for support.
- Accumulation of hard or uneven surfaces on the knees and putting increased pressure on the kneecap, causing friction to develop.
- Injury to the joint from a direct hit or fall (this may occur in contact sports such as football). The injury often occurs after the “whipping” motion.
- Weak, worn-out knees.
- Previous knee surgery caused the ligaments to be altered or torn.
Meniscal tears are a common injury in athletes involved in sports such as football, soccer, basketball, and any other sports where athletes will repetitively perform actions and movements that may place pressure on their knees. Meniscus tears can occur at any age, but they are most common in young men between the ages of 20 and 30. Athletes need to understand that their knees are not supposed to hurt. A torn meniscal tear can lead to arthritis down the road on the side of the knee. This is a very serious injury and one that most doctors will not treat because they do not want to be sued.
Women who have regularly been engaging in high-impact sports such as jogging, basketball, and soccer have a higher chance of tearing their meniscus. Even without recent trauma such as a fall or direct blow to the knee, there is a much higher chance of damage to the meniscus if one has been participating in these activities, especially those with high levels of activity. Depending on a person’s age, their knee joint has been damaged by previous injuries or due to the onset of arthritis and may not have the support needed from healthy bones and ligaments. Without sufficient support, ligaments and bones can become worn out, torn, or damaged.
Meniscal tears most commonly occur in one of the 4 major knee ligaments:
There are 3 levels to a Meniscus tear. A Grade 1 tear is considered mild. Grade 2 is moderate-severe, and grade 3 is severe. A Grade 1/2 meniscus tear would generally heal on its own in a few months to a year, but a more severe tear would probably be more debilitating since it may not heal easily. This would require surgery. In most cases, the replacement meniscus is inserted through the groin hole or in a vein in the arm.
The knee brace has become popular for athletes with knee problems and injuries since it provides more support than a normal, non-orthopedic knee brace. In addition, advanced knee braces are now available that are specifically designed to increase range of motion, cushioning, and stability while still providing support for bone strengthening exercises and muscle training.
In acute pain, paracetamol is a pain reliever and will help with swelling. It can also alleviate mild inflammation. Ibuprofen is similar to paracetamol and works similarly but has fewer side effects on the stomach. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen may be useful in treating meniscal tears. Still, many warn them of the potential risks of long-term side effects.
The athlete will need to focus on the thigh muscles (quadriceps) and hamstring muscles to strengthen the knee. These are the major supporting muscle groups in the knee, and if they are weak, they will not support properly, leading to injury.
Another option that is growing rapidly in popularity is arthroscopic surgery. In this procedure, a small camera is inserted into the knee joint. It can see deep into the knee joint, and surgeons can look for tears in the menisci or other damage to ACL and PCL ligaments. They can then repair these tears, often without invasive surgery that causes a lot of pain and swelling afterward.
This surgery generally only needs to be performed during athletic competition or after an injury sustained during such activity. Thus, the athlete does not have to stop playing afterward if they have a knee problem.
A meniscal tear can repair itself over a variety of periods. The average time for a meniscal tear to heal on its own is between 4 to 12 months. If the patient has pain or swelling, then they should seek medical attention as soon as possible. They should also be sure to maintain healthy living habits to reduce the risk of future tears.
Meniscal tear is a very common injury in athletics. An active individual, especially one involved with contact sports, is much more vulnerable to this injury. Proper rehabilitation is required after any knee injury, and surgery may be necessary when all other treatment methods fail. It’s best to prevent injuries from happening in the first place because of the pain and trauma it causes and the long-term complications that an injury like a meniscal tear can potentially cause.