Even if you already know that you have knee arthritis, new knee pain can mean a new problem. If you are experiencing a popping in the joint, or it’s locking, then you might also have an injury to your meniscus – which is a moon-shaped section of cartilage in your knee that is an extra cushion between the ends of the bones.
The only way you will know if your meniscus is torn, or whether the pain is being caused by something else, is to have your knee evaluated by a medical expert. Orthopedic surgeons are experts in diagnosing and treating problems with the bones, joints, and muscles, so this is the type of specialist to see as soon as possible if your knee is bothering you. After an x-ray to rule out severe knee arthritis, as well as a careful physical exam and history taking, your doctor may ask you to do more tests like an MRI to see the internal structure of the knee.
Orthopedic surgeons don’t only perform surgery. Indeed, they are the ones who are best equipped to determine and provide the least-invasive treatment possible for your musculoskeletal issue. In the meantime, let’s talk about a few things you should know to help you understand meniscal tears and their possible treatments:
Your Knees and Your Menisci
The knee is a hinge joint. If you imagine a door hinge, you know that it works via two-way movement, just as your knee can extend forward and bend back.
Every joint in your body is made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues and fluids. Inside the knee joint, the bottom of the thighbone (the femur, which is in your upper leg) meets the top of one of the lower leg bones (the tibia), and they work together like a hinge. In the meantime, the kneecap glides along the bottom and front of the femur, protecting the knee and increasing the strength in your leg.
Inside the joint, cartilage helps the bones glide smoothly and also acts as a shock absorber when walking or running. The meniscus is actually a separate, thick pad of cartilage between the femur and the tibia, and each knee has two menisci – one on the inside of the knee and one on the outer side.
The menisci play a very important function of protecting and stabilizing the joint and for smooth movement. If it is torn, your knee will be less stable and may feel like it’s not moving correctly. Other symptoms might include pain, swelling, popping, or locking.
Nonsurgical Treatment for a Torn Meniscus
Your orthopedic doctor will consider your precise symptoms before deciding whether conservative (nonsurgical) treatment will work and will also factor in if your knee has worsening arthritis too. Symptoms can vary, and some people may start noticing that something wrong with their knee right away after an injury, or possibly not until sometime later. Patients may have a lot of swelling or none at all. Also, some patients with a meniscus tear can move their knee without pain, while others may have more symptoms when the knee is really flexed. Regardless of your symptoms or the pattern of your injury, some patients may be good candidates for nonsurgical treatment.
Initially, you will need to rest the knee and avoid participating in strenuous activities or performing movements that put a lot of stress on the joint, such as squatting, kneeling, twisting, jogging, dancing, or walking up or down the stairs. You should try to keep your knee elevated, and ice it carefully. Note: Be sure to wrap a towel around the ice pack so there is no direct contact with your skin. You may also benefit from a knee brace, special shoe inserts, and/or crutches at first.
As your knee pain begins to improve, physical therapy and therapeutic exercises will begin. Expect to do straight leg raises to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Eventually, light weights can be added to these exercises, but follow the advice of your therapist and orthopedic doctor.
The whole goal of physical therapy exercises is to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. If your meniscus tear is complicated by arthritis, your orthopedic surgeon may also be able to use therapeutic injections to improve recovery and pain.
Your general health, age, and type of meniscus injury will determine how long it will take to recover. Follow your orthopedist’s advice, and hopefully, you’ll be back on your feet as soon as possible.
Orthopedic Doctor in the Triangle
If you are having chronic knee pain, problems walking or climbing stairs, or any other issues with your bones or muscles, it may be time to schedule a consultation with Dr. Brett Gilbert. Dr. Gilbert is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who is highly qualified to address your musculoskeletal needs. He and his friendly team are here to answer your questions and to provide relief from your pain efficiently and effectively.
To request a consultation with Dr. Gilbert, please call our office today at (919) 788-8797 or request an appointment online, and let us help you get on the move again.