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Torn meniscus treatment options

Treatment For a Meniscus Tear: How to Treat a Torn Meniscus

Jul 25, 2023

The meniscus is a type of cartilage which sits on top of the shin bone within the knee joint. There are two in the knee, one on the outside (lateral) and one on the inside (medial). From above, they are c-shaped and sit flat on the articular cartilage (joint surface) like a washer with the open ends facing each other. 

In the cross section they appear wedge-shaped, with the thick potion on the outer wall of the knee. They are c-shaped because the center is occupied by the ACL. The meniscus is designed to help stabilize the knee and make the knee joint more congruent to allow for smooth range of motion. A meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries.

Still, what is a treatment for a meniscus tear? What does this entail, and how long does it take? 

A meniscus tear is pretty hard to miss as they are often painful. They can occur as a result of direct trauma, meaning you’ll notice the exact moment of the tear.However they can occur randomly due to attritional wear and tear. The best course of action would be an evaluation by a sports medicine physician or an orthopedic surgery. You will be examined and probably get an xrays to evaluate for any arthritis (which can also cause knee pain).

Torn meniscus symptoms, causes, and types 

You should look for the symptoms like:

  • Knee pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty bearing weight
  • Locking or catching
  • Clicking or popping sensation

If some or all of these symptoms appear after a knee injury, you might start inquiring to see if meniscus tear treatment is right for you.

The most common reasons for a meniscus tear are sudden twists or a direct impact. On some occasions, even repetitive stress on the knee (due to squatting, kneeling, or heavy lifting) will wear it down and cause tears.

Actions that most commonly lead to a meniscus tear are:

  • Soccer
  • Тennis
  • Basketball
  • Weight lifting
  • Traumatic falls
  • Accidents
  • Manual labor

In other words, wherever there’s a quick pivot, abrupt change in speed and direction, or a forceful blow to your knee, you risk developing a meniscus tear.

It’s also worth mentioning that degenerative changes and age-related degeneration increase the risk of a meniscus tear as well.

One more thing to remember is that the treatment for a meniscus tear also depends on the type of the tear. The many subtypes of meniscal tears but two main types of meniscus tear are:

  • Radial tears: A scenario where the tear extends from the inner edge to the outer edge in a straight or radial line. This is the most common type of tears.
  • Bucket handle tears: Vertical tears along the length that will displace a portion of your meniscus are called bucket handle tears (due to their shape). If they flip over into the joint, like the handle of a bucket, surgery is indicated to remove this flipped piece. 

Aside from this, it’s also worth mentioning that meniscus tears vary by their complexity. This is probably the main factor in determining whether you need a meniscus tear surgery.

Meniscus treatment without surgery? 

People will always choose a non-surgical solution as their first choice. Before we proceed, let’s say completely healing a torn meniscus is highly unlikely given the poor blood supply (and thus poor healing capabilities). However the goal is not healing but pain resolution. Still, numerous measures can alleviate the problem and help facilitate you getting better.

The RICE technique maywork (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Other than that, you could also try over-the-counter Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like ibuprofen to help reduce the inflammation and engage in some gentle range-of-motion exercises. Physical therapy is also a great option for many patients.

Since you are still under pressure on that knee, weight management may help slightly alleviate the problem.

In recent years, there’s been a massive push for new developments in injectable treatments for meniscus tears. These injectables help to make a surgical treatment for a meniscus tear more successful and reliable.

Meniscus tear surgery: Diagnosis and procedure

Whether a meniscus surgery is necessary is a question that only a doctor can answer. They’ll take into consideration factors like:

  • The severity and the location of the tear
  • Persistent symptoms despite nonoperative treatments
  • Age and activity level
  • Your goals and preferences
  • MRI findings

Doctors will often obtain an MRI to determine just how serious the tearis and what can be done about it. Then, if the situation is dire enough, they’ll suggest surgery and send you to a meniscus tear surgeon if you’re not seeing one already.

At the moment, meniscus surgeries are done arthroscopically, which is a minimally invasive procedure that’s performed with a small camera called an arthroscope and special instruments. The procedure is usually quite straightforward:

  • The patient is put under anesthesia (local, regional, or general).
  • The surgeon makes two small incisions around the knee joint (usually 1 cm long).
  • The surgeon inserts arthroscopic instruments to make an examination.
  • The next step is assessment and treatment. Depending on the situation, they’ll either perform meniscus repair or more often meniscectomy (excising the damaged meniscus flap).
  • The incision is closed with structures, steri-strips, and/or bandages.

Once the procedure is done, the patient may have a long road to recovery. It’s also worth mentioning that the procedure itself usually lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. While you may get a special brace or crutches for now, you’ll usually be released home on the same day.

Torn meniscus recovery time 

Like always, the recovery time depends on many factors, the most important being:

  • The procedure used.
  • The success of the surgery.
  • Your body’s response (which also depends on your age and general condition).
  • Your discipline in the recovery period.
  • The severity of the original tear.

Generally speaking, if the tear is small and you’re going with the non-surgical treatment, it could become less painful in a few weeks to a few months.

In the case of a meniscus repair surgery, the recovery will usually take three to six months.This is less common surgery as only a very small number of meniscal tears are able to be repaired.

If we’re talking about meniscectomy, the recovery is usually six to eight weeks.

Wrap up

In the end, the treatment for a meniscus tear can only be recommended by a trained professional. If the situation is dire enough and your long-term objectives are a complete recovery, this is probably the only way forward. The procedure is done arthroscopically (which means minimal scarring), it takes a bit longer than 30 minutes, and you get to go home on the same day.

You should find a knee surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey to learn more about this condition.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.