Imagine watching a gymnastics floor routine during the olympics. The event requires significant skill, strength, agility and poise on the part of the gymnast, but the environment also plays a role in making the routine appear fluid and graceful. As you’re imagining the gymnast springing across the mat and flipping high into the air, think about how differently this event would look if the floor was a concrete surface instead of soft, shock-absorbent material.
Just as the surface of the mat changes the dynamics of a gymnastics floor routine, allowing the gymnast to land jumps with ease and bounce back into the next motion seamlessly, there are several little piece of the body’s anatomy that are doing essentially the same thing for the bones within the gymnast’s legs.
Those pieces are the knee’s menisci. There are two in each knee joint and though they are extremely important to the joint’s daily function, they are often overlooked until a patient finds his or herself with a knee injury that requires torn meniscus surgery.
All About the Meniscus
Made of extremely durable fibrocartilage, many people go an entire lifetime without any injury or damage to their menisci. These small, c-shaped pieces are located between the tibia and the femur - one on the medial side and one on the lateral side of the knee. They are responsible for quite a few very important functions.
- They are shock-absorbers that allow the body to run, jump, and squat without sustaining direct, harmful impact
- They support the cartilage by nourishing it and by helping to protect the tibia and femur from rubbing against each during movement
- They extend the life of the cartilage in the knee joint, helping to prevent early arthritis
- They bear a large percentage of the body’s weight
- They work with the ligaments to help provide stability to the knee joint
The Potential for Injury
Like many knee injuries, a torn meniscus is often associated with a sports-related incident. However, the motion that causes the injury could be as simple as getting up from a squat. Patients who end up requiring torn meniscus surgery frequently report having heard a popping sound and being able to feel “something out of place” in their knee. Pain is an immediate symptom and swelling can also occur in some cases. On occasion, the tear will cause the knee to catch or even to lock so that the patient is unable to straighten their leg.
In older or non-athletic patients, a meniscus can tear little by little over time without presenting noticeable symptoms. These asymptomatic cases are usually addressed with rest, ice and other conservative treatment approaches
Do You Need Torn Meniscus Surgery?
If you’re experiencing pain along the joint line and you believe you may have a meniscal injury, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic physician, who has specific expertise as a knee specialist. After a physical exam and an MRI, the physician will be able to confirm the diagnosis and point you in the right direction toward a treatment plan that will be best for your particular case.
For some patients, torn meniscus surgery is not required. Rather, a combination of rest, ice, elevation and physical therapy may be recommended. In some cases of young, healthy patients, the meniscus will actually heal on it’s own over time! However, because this is usually not the case, many cases do require a surgery to perform either a partial removal or a repair.
In many cases, the surgeon will wait until he or she is actually inside of the joint during surgery to determine the best solution based on the extend of the damage and whether or not the knee has sustained additional injuries apart from the meniscus tear.
Ask your surgeon
to explain all of the potential options to you prior to surgery so that you are informed and confident about the approach and the goals of surgery.