Torn meniscus: causes, symptoms and treatment

The meniscus is located in the knee and consists of an elastic piece of cartilage. It ensures that the upper and lower legs can move smoothly in relation to each other. If a tear occurs due to, for example, a sports injury, where the knee makes a strong rotational movement, this can be very painful. The knee can also become swollen. Rest is usually advised, after which you can carefully start exercising again. Recovery sometimes takes months. What should you do to recover as best as possible from a torn meniscus?

What the meniscus is

A meniscus is an elastic disc of cartilage located in the knee in the shape of the letter c. It covers the outside of the hard bone to a large extent. Each knee contains an inner and an outer meniscus. They are located between the upper and lower leg and their fibrous structure allows them to absorb the weight resting on the lower leg. It provides stability and joint lubrication. In addition, they have a cushioning effect during walking or other forms of exercise. The inner meniscus is most likely to be damaged because it is more firmly attached than the outer meniscus. The inner meniscus is attached to the knee ligaments. The meniscus adapts to the position of the knee during movement.

Symptoms of meniscus tear

You often notice that the meniscus is damaged due to a sudden pain localized on the inside or outside of the knee. The knee can become thicker due to fluid retention, sometimes only the next day. A feeling of instability may arise. Then it seems as if you are sagging a bit or that the knee is moving a bit. A piece of the cartilage can become loose and become stuck, causing the knee to become blocked. You can then no longer bend or straighten the knee. The most common symptoms of a torn meniscus are:

  • Acute pain in the knee when turning
  • Swollen knee
  • Knee is locked

How to get it

It is a common sports injury. You sometimes see this injury during sports where you rotate your upper body while your lower leg and foot remain on the ground. The risks are somewhat greater, especially for intensive athletes or contact athletes. Because it occurs quite regularly in the football world, it is also called football knee. You don’t have to be an athlete to get this, it can also be caused by a twisting movement while squatting or rising uncontrollably from a squatting position. If you land on the ground with an overextended leg after jumping, the meniscus can tear. Due to wear and tear, the meniscus can gradually become thinner and tear more easily. There is always a wrong move or an accident.

What can you do yourself?

If there is a tear, it will usually heal on its own. It is recommended to rest for a few days. You may be able to ease the pain a bit by using a cold pack. It is not clear whether this will heal faster. If you want to use a painkiller, paracetamol is the first choice. If you can just walk on it, try to keep moving. Exercise is good for recovery. The pain symptoms after a meniscus injury usually decrease over time. It can sometimes take more than three months for it to heal again. One wrong move can cause it to come back. Therefore, be careful in the beginning. An ascending and descending pattern of complaints therefore regularly occurs after damage to the meniscus.

To the doctor

A doctor will usually advise you to rest for a few days. Due to the swelling and pain, it can be difficult to determine what the damage is immediately after the injury occurs. An immediate referral to an orthopedist is only made if there is a permanent lock position of the knee. In all other cases, a short rest and then gradual increase in load is recommended. If bothersome complaints persist, a referral to an orthopedic surgeon can still be made. A swollen knee can also be caused by damage to your knee ligaments.

Do exercises

If the swelling and pain are not too bad, it is better to keep moving. Rest will cause your thigh muscle to quickly lose strength and a well-functioning thigh muscle is very important for the recovery of the knee. Therefore, try to do exercises daily. Some examples are given below.

Thigh muscle

If you don’t want to strain your knee yet, you can train your thigh muscles to keep this muscle in shape. Get into a sitting or lying position with your leg raised straight. Alternate legs and do this for about a minute at a time. If you think one minute is too long, start with half a minute. It is better to do this exercise several times a day. It can be increased by increasing the time or by hanging a weight from the lower leg.

The first exercises for the knee

If the pain allows it, you can carefully put weight on the knee again. Try to step on it carefully. If this works again, try to slowly bend and straighten the knee. Bandaging the knee can provide support, but it usually does not make the complaints go away faster.

Tax further

If the pain and swelling decrease further, you can go a step further and increase the load, for example by cycling or walking. Do not put the bicycle in a position that is too heavy, but cycle light. Please note that recovery can take a long time. If you increase your exercise slowly, the complaints will usually gradually decrease and disappear.

Residual complaints

Usually the complaints go away on their own and further investigation is not necessary. In the case of a tear where there is a lot of fluid in the knee with a lot of pain, recovery can sometimes take months. If you continue to experience a lot of pain, further examination can be done after a week because the swelling has decreased. In some cases, complaints may persist, such as the knee occasionally locking up. Some people benefit from a physiotherapist. If the complaints persist, contact your doctor. It will then be determined whether keyhole surgery is necessary to see whether the meniscus needs to be stitched or partially removed.

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