About 14% of the women, men, and children in the United States have torn one of their menisci — crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage that absorb shocks to protect your thigh and shin bones. In each knee, you have two menisci — the lateral meniscus on the outside of your knee, and the medial meniscus on the inside of your knee.
David Lintner, MD, is a sports medicine specialist and surgeon who repairs meniscus tears at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Baytown and Houston, Texas. If you want healthy knees for sports and life, here’s what you should know about your menisci.
Your menisci absorb shocks
Your menisci separate the ends of your thigh bones and shin bones. Because menisci are made of resilient cartilage, they absorb the shock from stresses on your knee.
Every time you take a step while walking, you put 1.5 times your body weight on your knee. If you struggle with your weight, you could be putting up to three times your body weight on your knee with each step. And that’s just while walking.
Any activity that’s higher impact — running, jumping, dancing — creates even more pressure and stress on your knee joint. Just jogging or jumping subjects your knee to the equivalent stress of 2-3 times your body weight.
Of course, if you’re an athlete, you may be putting even more pressure on your meniscus, particularly if you do gymnastics or pole vaulting. Athletics also raises the risk that you’ll engage in activities that create extreme stress on your knee, including twisting your knee or stopping short after running.
Lateral menisci tear most easily
The lateral menisci — the menisci on the outside of each knee — are most vulnerable to tears. The inner portion of each lateral menisci is thin and doesn’t have its own blood supply, which makes it particularly vulnerable.
You can protect your menisci by strengthening the tendons, muscles, and ligaments that support your knee joint. You could also benefit by having our team analyze the movements you make when playing sports to determine if you can perform them more efficiently and safely.
Eat for your menisci
As with every cell in your body, the cells in your menisci need the right kind of nourishment. To keep your cartilage strong and thick so it can absorb the shocks of your busy life, be sure to eat a whole-foods diet that emphasizes good-quality proteins and fats, plus plenty of fresh vegetables and some fruit, too.
Drink a lot of water. Your menisci need to stay hydrated. And that’s another reason to quit smoking (if you smoke); cigarettes dehydrate your body, which can cause your menisci to become thinner and more fragile.
Repair torn menisci
If your knee is painful, stiff, or if you heard a popping sound when you stopped short, jumped, or twisted your knee, you may have torn a meniscus. Dr. Lintner evaluates your knee through examination and imaging studies to determine the full extent of your injuries.
If you have a small tear near the outer edge, the RICE (i.e., rest, icing, compression, elevation) protocol may be sufficient to heal your tear. However, if it’s a severe tear or if it’s closer to the center or inner edge of the meniscus, Dr. Lintner may advise surgical repair.
Whenever possible, Dr. Lintner uses minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery to repair torn menisci. Arthroscopic surgery requires smaller incisions, which speeds up your recovery time. You usually go home directly after your operation.
If you suspect that you’ve torn a meniscus or you have knee pain or stiffness, contact our office nearest you in Houston or Baytown, Texas for diagnosis and treatment today. Phone our friendly team or schedule an appointment online.