What is a meniscal tear?
A meniscal tear is an injury which typically occurs when playing sports. It is a painful injury which can happen when playing a variety of games including football, basketball, volleyball and rugby. A meniscal tear involves damage to the meniscus; a piece of cartilage which plays the vital role of providing both cushioning and stabilisation in the knee joint. The tear can lead to the 'catching' of a piece of cartilage in the knee joint.
Symptoms of a meniscal tear
The most common meniscal tear symptoms include; a popping sensation when the injury happens; severe pain in the knee; the knee becoming stuck or 'locked'; and the inability to bend or straighten the leg.
While some sports players might be able to continue competing or training in the aftermath of a meniscal tear, this is usually only possible in the period prior to the inflammation setting in.
Causes of a meniscal tear
A meniscal tear can happen when sports players change direction at high speed, or jump. The injury can occur concurrently with other knee injuries like an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
Treatment options for meniscal tear
The treatment path which is chosen for a meniscal tear will come down to the nature of the individual's condition; considering factors such as the location of the tear, and its size.
In the immediate aftermath of the injury occurring, the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) model can be effective in reducing inflammation and pain. In the weeks following a meniscal tear, physical therapy can focus on strengthening the muscles which support the knee joint. Stability can be improved by wearing a brace during this time. Medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) can also be prescribed.
For cases in which non-surgical treatment methods have proven ineffective, and typically when a large tear has caused the 'catching' of a piece of cartilage, surgery can be advised.
Arthroscopic surgery is one of the most common procedures used to address a meniscal tear. In many cases, it can offer the best solution to the problems of frequent pain and the instability of the knee, as well as the development of conditions such as arthritis. The surgeon will typically begin by viewing the tear using an arthroscope, before determining if damage is repairable, or whether the meniscus needs to be removed. If the meniscus is able to be repaired, an incision is made to allow surgical instruments to be inserted, and the torn edges of the meniscus can be sutured back into place.
An alternative type of procedure is a partial meniscectomy, which removes part of the meniscus, leaving the healthy section of tissue in place. The type of procedure which is chosen will depend on the location and size of the tear.