Meniscus Tears Can Be Very Painful: Here's What You Need to Know

Any athlete, competitive or recreational, is at risk for a meniscus tear, but contact sports are typically involved. That said, you don’t have to be an athlete at all to tear your meniscus. Twisting, bending, and squatting can do it, too. And the simple act of aging can deteriorate and weaken your meniscus enough that it rips without much force at all.

Fortunately, Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht at the Institute for Arthroscopy & Sports Medicine (IASM) in San Francisco can diagnose your knee injury, help you understand exactly what happened, and offer you the most advanced, minimally invasive treatments available.

What’s a meniscus and how does it tear?

Understanding your anatomy and what happens when you injure part of it is the first step in the healing process.

The meniscus

In your knee joint — where your shinbone, thighbone, and kneecap meet — you have two menisci to cushion those bones. They’re rubbery, tough discs that prevent bones from rubbing against one another. 

You have two menisci in each knee. The medial meniscus is shaped like the letter C and protects the inside of your knee, and the lateral meniscus is shaped like a U and protects the outer part of your knee.

The torn meniscus

Although your knee joint is fairly flexible, it does have limits. If you twist it or bend it too far or too fast, something has to give, and it’s usually your meniscus. 

Types of meniscus tears

As with most injuries, meniscus tears come in varying degrees of severity. 

  1. Incomplete tears generally occur due to degeneration with age, and usually don’t require surgery. You may feel pain, but your knee should still be stable.
  2. The most common type, the radial tear, occurs in a part of the meniscus with very little blood flow, which means that healing can’t happen. Surgery is often required to cut off the damaged portion.
  3. A horizontal tear offers the highest hope for repair if it’s on the outer edge of your meniscus where there’s a blood supply. In this case, healing can happen, and Dr. Halbrecht can sew the fibers back together.
  4. Sometimes a meniscus tear occurs in an odd pattern. We call this a flap tear, and we can trim off the damaged portion without harming surrounding tissue.
  5. A bucket handle tear is when you’ve ripped through the entire thickness of your meniscus, most commonly the medial. This tear gets its name from the way the torn part flips over like a bucket handle.
  6. Of course, you can easily suffer from a combination of tear types, which doctors call a complex tear. 

Location, location, location

Treatment for your meniscus tear depends entirely on where it’s located. If your injury occurred in the outer portion of your knee where you have a healthy vascular system to support healing, repair is promising. 

If the tear happens in a region without the benefit of blood flow, then healing is not an option, but trimming away the damaged portions is.

Treating your tear

The best-case scenario is a small tear on the outer portion of your knee. That’s because it’s highly possible to treat your tear with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (the RICE method). Over time, your body naturally heals itself.

For more severe tears or those that aren’t candidates for conservative treatments, Dr. Halbrecht uses the most advanced arthroscopic techniques to repair or remove your damaged cartilage. Some procedures require tiny incisions, and some require no incisions at all. You may even be a good candidate for grafting, in which case he can give you a meniscus transplant.

If you’ve torn your meniscus and you’re wondering what to do next, call us at IASM at 415-233-7996 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Halbrecht right away. You can also book an appointment through this website using our online booking tool. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll be back in motion.

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