Every time you suit up to play a sport, you run a risk of getting injured, whether you’re a professional, student athlete, or a weekend warrior. Running, stopping, and jumping puts stress on your knees, which makes meniscus tears one of the most common types of injuries an athlete can suffer.
At the orthopedics and sports medicine practice of David Lintner, MD, he and his team have treated many meniscus tears and have helped their patients get back to the sports they love. In this blog, Dr. Lintner explains what meniscus tears are and how they can be treated.
Your menisci are two crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage that cushion your knee joint, which is where your thigh bone (femur) connects to your shin (tibia). The menisci create a soft barrier that absorbs shocks and prevents those bones from rubbing against each other. If you plant your foot and twist, you can easily tear a meniscus.
If your knee is painful, swollen, and stiff, Dr. Lintner will first use an X-ray, MRI, or another diagnostic tool to get an accurate look at what’s happening. If he diagnoses the problem as a torn meniscus, he will design a treatment plan. Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your injury.
If you have a minor meniscus tear ― especially if it’s on the outer third of the meniscus ― you might get relief with conservative treatment. This means using the RICE method. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The goal is to reduce swelling and allow your body to heal itself over time. If the RICE method is all it takes to treat your injury, you should make a full recovery.
If you’re not responding to the RICE method, Dr. Lintner might need to shave or cut away the rough edges of your torn meniscus. With this procedure, you may be able to return to action in 7-9 weeks. Most athletes make a full recovery from this procedure.
If you need a meniscus repair, Dr. Lintner will mend your meniscus. With this procedure, you’ll likely need a recovery time of about 5½ months. After this procedure, 81-89% of athletes return to their sport.
In rare cases, if you’re dealing with a severe tear, your best option may be to undergo a meniscus transplant. In this case, Dr. Lintner replaces your meniscus with a donor meniscus. This procedure requires the longest recovery time, which is 7½-16½ months. After this procedure, 67-86% of athletes return to their sport.
No matter how minor or severe your meniscus tear is, you’ll likely need physical therapy to build back your strength and prevent re-injury. Your recovery time and ability to return to sports will depend on how diligently you follow your physical therapy and at-home instructions.
Serious meniscus tears may force you to modify your performance level or how often you play, depending on your sport. For instance, if you’re a runner who hits the track almost every day, you may need to cut back your routine to 3-4 days a week. Running more frequently with a compromised meniscus could create more damage.
If you have a torn meniscus and need treatment, or if you want to see if you have a torn meniscus, book an appointment online or over the phone with the practice of David Lintner, MD, today.