The meniscus is a sheet of cartilage located in certain joints between bones. In the case of the knee, there are two: one on the inside and one on the outside. Its function is to allow the frictionless mobility of this joint between the femur and the tibia. But what happens if a meniscus tears, and how can such an injury be prevented?
Types of meniscus injuries
Meniscus injuries are divided into two categories: trauma and degenerative.
- Trauma: These are produced by physical blows. They are very common among athletes.
- Degenerative: These appear due to age. The meniscus, like any other tissue, loses stability and elasticity over time, and for that reason can break more easily.
In addition to this general classification, we can divide meniscus injuries into: meniscopathies such as inflammations and tears, meniscus tears which can be horizontal, radial, etc.
The traumatic bucket-handle lesion, which requires immediate surgical treatment, deserves a special mention. This is a vertical or oblique break that splits part of the meniscus in the shape of a buttonhole or bucket handle. The medial fragment moves to the intercondylar fossa.
How do I know if I have broken my meniscus?
The main symptom is pain, mostly when bending the knee or trying to squat or bend over. Depending on which of the two menisci have been broken, the pain is felt either on the inside or on the outside of the knee.
Other warning signs include knee-locking and swelling from a joint effusion.
A torn meniscus is not always cause for surgery. Many people lead a normal life with a torn meniscus even if they suffer some discomfort.
A doctor may recommend surgery when the patient’s general quality of life suffers, or if they feel a lot of pain even at rest. Such operation is currently performed via arthroscopy.
When there is suspicion of a serious knee issue the first thing that is done is an exploration of the joint. Possible deformities or effusions and the degree of mobility of the knee are analyzed.
After that, tests such as magnetic resonance or radiological images will be conducted for a more comprehensive view of the bones and joint.
In the case of bucket-handle injuries, if an MRI is not an option, the patient should be taken directly to the operating room for surgery.
Types of surgery
There are two: a partial meniscectomy or a meniscus suture.
- Partial meniscectomy: Indicated for lesions that cannot be closed because of their location or because of degenerative damage. It involves the removal of the part of the meniscus that, when broken, causes pain. After the surgery, patients are able to walk from the first day with the help of crutches. Two or three days later they receive the first physical therapy sessions, and full rehabilitation takes about a month.
- Meniscus suture: Indicated when the injury is at the base of the meniscus area. It is very advisable, especially for young patients. Such patients will need to wear a knee mobility limitation brace after the operation and will not be able to support their leg for six weeks. During the next month and a half, they can gradually increase the amount of weight they put on the knee, and about three months later patients can walk again without crutches. Full rehabilitation takes about four and a half months.
How to prevent meniscus injuries
The best way to avoid knee damage is to stay physically fit. This means eating a balanced diet that contains less meat and more fruit and vegetables. Turmeric is now known to be a spice with great anti-inflammatory powers, so including it in our diet would is recommended.
The second piece of advice is common to the prevention of many pathologies: drink plenty of water. In the case of the knee, the intake of fluid allows the joint to remain well lubricated and helps eliminate toxins, thus avoiding inflammation.
Furthermore, exercise allows us to stabilize the knees. Exercises that strengthen the muscles that cover these joints are needed for protecting them.
Lastly, obesity should be avoided. Maintaining an optimal weight is recommended because our joints suffer when carrying extra weight.