Torn Meniscus Treatment in New Jersey

soccer player warming up on the fieldThe meniscus is a crescent-shaped structure composed of cartilage and fibrous connective tissue that provides support and protection to the surrounding bones and joints as they move, rotate and bear weight.

We have several menisci in our bodies, including ones that cushion the knee, the clavicle, the sternum and the jawbone, however, the term “meniscus” widely refers to the structure in the knee.

If you follow sports, you have likely heard the word “meniscus” more than a few times. Athletes commonly have torn menisci because of the stress that many sports put on the knees. But a torn meniscus is also common among older people, because as we age, the cartilage in the knees becomes thinner and more brittle.

A torn meniscus is an orthopedic condition. Our facilities offer some of the latest, cutting-edge treatments and procedures aimed at restoring mobility and quality of life.

If you have knee pain and suspect you may have a torn meniscus, visit an orthopedist right away.

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What Does the Meniscus Do?

The knee meniscus spans the space between the femur and tibia, commonly known as the thigh bone and shinbone. It is composed of two main parts, the lateral meniscus, which sits on the outside of the knee, and the medial meniscus, which sits on the inside.

Together with muscles, ligaments and tendons, the meniscus helps protect the ends of long bones, provide shock absorption and facilitate all types of movement. This large, suction-cup-like structure also helps distribute weight throughout the body and provides a buffer to prevent bones from grinding against one another during daily activities such as walking, bending, twisting and lifting.

Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus

You may be able to trace the cause of your pain back to a specific event, or it may have crept up on you over time. As the origins vary, so do the symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of a torn meniscus:

  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in the knee
  • Pain that increases when bearing weight, such as when lifting or running
  • Clicking or locking sensation in the knee
  • Trouble with straightening the leg fully
  • Overall weakness
  • Inability to utilize the knee’s full range of motion

Types of Meniscus Injuries

Given all the roles it fills, the meniscus, much like the ACL, can be prone to injuries. The most common type of meniscus injury is a torn meniscus. Sometimes referred to as “torn cartilage,” most cases fall under one of two types and require some form of treatment to restore functionality and heal properly. They include:

  • Traumatic meniscus tears. A common sports injury, this type of meniscus tear occurs as a result of strenuous physical activity, such as repetitive injury from stooping, kneeling or squatting, as well as from overextension from pivoting or sustaining blunt force trauma.
  • Degenerative meniscus tears. This type of meniscus tear occurs over time and can be the result of inherited conditions or age, as worn tissue is more susceptible to tears. People who have experienced prior trauma from a twisted knee or other injuries may also be more prone to facing a degenerative meniscus tear.

Diagnosing a Torn Meniscus

If you suspect you have a torn meniscus, schedule an appointment with an orthopedist to obtain a proper diagnosis and avoid further injury. After you have discussed your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will perform a physical examination of your knee to look for signs of injury. The tests may include:

  • The McMurray Test. The most common test for diagnosing a torn meniscus, this involves your doctor bending, straightening and rotating your knee and leg to look for signs of injury.
  • The Steinman Test. Similar actions to the McMurray test but are performed while you are sitting.
  • The Appley Grind Test. This test is performed while you are face-down with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle while the doctor applies pressure to the area.
  • Thessaly Test. This test involves testing your range of motion by flexing and pivoting your knee at different angles.

If you have a limited range of motion, pain or clicking in the joint while the doctor is performing the exam, you may have a torn meniscus. Your doctor may then order imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis before proceeding with treatment.

Imaging tests include:

  • X-ray imaging. Although an X-ray image cannot show a tear in the meniscus, it helps rule out other conditions that could be causing knee pain, such as a broken bone or osteoarthritis.
  • Ultrasound technology. This imaging technology provides more detailed images than those from an X-ray, yet not as detailed as those captured from an MRI. Using soundwaves to visualize internal structures, ultrasound can help identify injuries to the tendons, muscles and ligaments, which can aid in torn meniscus treatment.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Magnetic wave technology can produce detailed images of soft tissue inflammations, swelling, cartilage degradation and tears in the meniscus.

Torn Meniscus Treatment

In many cases, treatment for a torn meniscus involves a conservative approach without surgery.

Tears that affect the outer one-third of the meniscus generally heal more easily as the area is equipped with a rich blood supply. Tears that reach the inner two-thirds of the meniscus require more involved torn meniscus treatment, as they affect a deeper zone that lacks a significant blood supply.

Depending on your age and the location, type and severity of your injury, your doctor may begin by recommending the following treatments for a torn meniscus:

  • Rest. Take a break from any strenuous activities and keep weight off the injured knee.
  • Ice. Apply cold packs to the area near the torn meniscus several times per day, for up to 20 minutes at a time. Avoid applying ice directly to your skin.
  • Compression. Your doctor may wrap a compression bandage around your knee with the torn meniscus to minimize swelling.
  • Elevation. Rest in a reclined position, with your leg elevated higher than your heart.
  • Anti-inflammatories. Aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen may help reduce pain and swelling from your torn meniscus.
  • Bracing or crutches. While not a torn meniscus treatment, a fitted knee brace may help stabilize the knee, enabling healing.
  • Steroid injections. A common treatment for a torn meniscus. Your orthopedic specialist may inject a corticosteroid medication to ease pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation. After an initial period of rest after an injury, physical therapy can help improve the knee’s range of motion, strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee, reduce pain and swelling.
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP). This emerging torn meniscus treatment involves injections made from the patient’s blood platelets to accelerate healing in deep meniscus tears.

Torn Meniscus Surgery

In severe cases, or when the torn meniscus does not sufficiently heal with nonsurgical torn meniscus treatments alone, surgery may be required.

Meniscus surgery is performed under regional or general anesthesia, most often arthroscopically. This minimally invasive surgical method allows a surgeon to view the affected area and repair the damage.

Through the use of fiber optic lighting directed through a thin tube, this surgery for a torn meniscus facilitates the use of smaller incisions which allows for quicker recovery times than in older-style open surgeries.

Depending on the type and severity of your torn meniscus, your surgeon may perform one of the following surgeries: arthroscopic meniscus repair, arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or arthroscopic total meniscectomy.

Arthroscopic Meniscus Repair

This type of torn meniscus treatment involves stitching the torn pieces back together. Since it takes time for the meniscus to heal back together, recovery time may take up to 3 months. To promote healing, your doctor will prescribe rehabilitative exercises to strengthen and repair the meniscus, either done at home or with a physical therapist.

Arthroscopic Partial Meniscectomy

This treatment for a torn meniscus involves the trimming away of the damaged tissue. It is generally a treatment that is used for irreparable tears. you can begin exercising your range of motion and bearing weight on the knee shortly after surgery.

Arthroscopic Total Meniscectomy

This surgery for a torn meniscus involves the removal of the entire meniscus, and it is generally only performed when other types of surgery are not possible, as it is associated with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to restore function to your knee afterward.

Your goal is to regain muscle strength and range of motion. Recovery may take from 6 weeks to 3 months.

There are benefits and risks involved with any type of surgery. RWJBarnabas Health recommends addressing your questions and concerns with your doctor prior to scheduling your torn meniscus surgery.

The RWJBarnabas Health Difference

RWJBarnabas Health is the largest health network in New Jersey. Our well-rounded orthopedic department is led by highly skilled medical professionals who will guide you through your torn meniscus treatment process with care and compassion.

Our team includes:

  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Orthopedists
  • Physician assistants
  • Registered nurses
  • Physical therapists

We have access to the latest technologies to diagnose a wide array of orthopedic issues. We can administer therapies and treatments for torn meniscus and other orthopedic conditions that promote faster healing and better outcomes.

Have you suffered from a meniscus injury? RWJBarnabas Health can help.


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