Winter is a great time to get out and be active, however, we often see an increase in knee injuries during these cold winter months because of the popularity of winter sports. One of the most common injuries we see is a meniscus tear.
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that provides a cushion between your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). There are two menisci in each knee joint. These menisci can be damaged or torn during activities that put pressure on or rotate the knee joint. Taking a hard fall on the ski slopes or getting up too quickly from a squatting position can result in a meniscus tear. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, more than 500,000 meniscal tears take place in the United States each year.
Causes of meniscal tears
The meniscus is often torn during activities that cause direct contact or pressure from a forced twist or rotation. A sudden pivot or turn, deep squatting, or heavy lifting can lead to injury. A large majority of meniscus tears are experienced by athletes. Sports that require sudden turns and stops may put you at higher risk for meniscus tears. Some of these sports include:
Symptoms of a Meniscal Tear
When a meniscus tear occurs, you may hear a popping sound around your knee joint. Afterward, you may experience:
- Pain, especially when the area is touched
- Difficulty moving your knee
- The feeling of your knee locking
- The feeling that your knee is unable to support you
You may also experience a slipping or popping sensation, which is usually an indication that a piece of cartilage has become loose.
Treating a Meniscal Tear
Initially, you should treat the knee injury with conservative techniques that include rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE method).
- Rest your knee. Use crutches to avoid any weight-bearing on the joint.
- Ice your knee every three to four hours for 30 minutes.
- Compress or wrap the knee in an elastic bandage to reduce inflammation.
- Elevate the knee to reduce swelling.
Taking medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or any other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling around your knee may be beneficial. Avoid putting any pressure on your injured knee if it is painful and avoid activities that may worsen the injury.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your knee. This therapy can help reduce pain and increase your knee mobility and stability. Your physical therapist may also use massage techniques to reduce swelling and stiffness.
If your knee isn’t responding to the treatments above, Dr. Nelson may recommend arthroscopic surgery. During the surgery, Dr. Nelson will make a small incision in your knee and will insert tools and a camera through the incision to repair or trim away the damaged meniscus. The entire procedure typically lasts about an hour.
Preventing a Meniscal Tear
The best way to prevent meniscal tears is by regularly performing exercises that strengthen your leg muscles. This will help stabilize your knee joint and protect it from injury.
Wearing protective gear during sports or a brace to support your knee during activities may also decrease your risk of injury.
Before exercising or engaging in activities that may put pressure on your knee joint, it’s a good idea to:
- Warm-up and stretch
- Learn the proper techniques for the activities you engage in
- Dress in proper equipment/gear
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned previously and they persist for more than a few days following the initial injury, please call Dr. Nelson to set up an appointment.