What Is a Meniscus Tear? Is It Causing My Knee Pain?

What Is a Meniscus Tear? Is It Causing My Knee Pain?
By Michael H. Boothby, MD, orthopedic surgeon at USMD Hospital at Fort Worth

With the cooler months approaching, it's natural to want to get out and enjoy the milder weather. But as you get more active, it's not uncommon to have some knee pain develop when you least expect it.

One of the most common causes of knee pain in patients of all ages is a meniscus tear. Each knee has two of these rubbery, C-shaped discs. They cushion your knees as you walk, run, twist, jump and even sleep.

Nagging knee pain

A meniscus tear is a rip in one of the menisci, usually caused by twisting or turning quickly. Although these tears often occur during sports, many times people may not have any idea what they have done to hurt their knee. Sometimes meniscus tears are small, quite mild and not debilitating. You might have some slight swelling and stiffness for a week or two, but can soon return to your normal activities.

With a more significant meniscus tear, however, you may have more persistent pain. The swelling and stiffness in your knee may be more severe and even come and go for weeks. A severely torn meniscus may become trapped between the bones of the knee and not allow the knee to bend, or it may feel wobbly or give way. In these cases, it's best to seek medical care.

Meniscus tear treatment

Meniscus tears are diagnosed via a thorough history and physical exam, as well as an MRI. Your doctor will likely recommend conservative treatments like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and possibly injections, though if the pain persists, surgery may be an option.

Surgical treatment for these types of tears is done with a minimally invasive, arthroscopic procedure. Recovery from knee arthroscopy is usually straightforward – you'll be allowed to walk again almost right after surgery. Full recovery takes a few weeks, but before you know it, you will be back in the game!

Learn more about the orthopedic program at USMD Hospital at Fort Worth.

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