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Torn Knee Cartilage [Meniscus]: Common Football Injuries

December 15, 2011

As we are coming to a close of the football season, we are also coming to a close of the most common football injuries. This will be the final week and after that we’ll do a summary report and then start a new topic for the year 2012.

Meniscus Tear: What Is It?

The meniscus is a cartilage in your knee, and it being torn is a common injury. The meniscus is a disk that’s shaped like a crescent. It’s also rubber-like. The purpose of this cartilage is to cushion your knee. In each knee you  have two menisci. One is at the outer edge of the knee and the other one is at the inner edge.

By balancing your weight across the knee, these menisci keep your knee stable, which means a torn meniscus will make your knee unstable.

How Do You Know You’ve Torn Your Meniscus?

You can break these tears down into three categories.

  • Minor tears will give you swelling and a slight pain that disappears after a few weeks.
  • You will know that you have a medium tear if you feel pain at the center or side of your knee. The swelling should also get worse over the next 3 days after the injury. In fact, your knee may feel stiff and you may not be able to bend your knee, but you can still walk. Other symptoms include a pain when you twist your knee or squat. You might experience these symptoms for few weeks, but if not treated can last for years. Of course your susceptibility to re-injuring it is high if you don’t get it treated.
  • A severe year occurs when you actually tear a part of the meniscus and then it falls into the spaces between the joints. If you have a severe tear, your knee will pop, lock or catch. You probably won’t be able to straighten it and your knee may wobble, or feel like it does. It may also give out without warning. Swelling is also another reaction that can occur, as well as the joint becoming stiff.

For older people, this injury may occur without you knowing why since your meniscus is likely to have been worn.

How Do You Treat a Torn Meniscus?

There are a couple ways to go about taking care of the torn cartilage. It depends on the severity of the tear–minor, medium or severe–your age and how much you do physically.

Some treatments are basic, some more complex and involve surgery, including:

Because small tears to the outer edges of the cartilage will often heal with a little rest, for minor torn meniscus, this is how you treat it:

  • Apply ice
  • Wrap the knee
  • Prop up the leg

For a medium tear, you might do all the above and also see a physical therapist. But you also might see a physical therapist with a minor injury, too.

For a severe tear, however, you may be looking at surgery. It’s a better option for tears that are larger and at the outer edges. But for tears near the center may not be the best approach. Also, young people might react better to surgery and get more benefit out of it than older people.

Recovery time from surgery all depends on what type of surgery you have, but your plan will more than likely include special exercises, plenty of rest and walking to strengthen the knee. Naturally consult with your doctor.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

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