Judging from the first word of this injury, I am already not in favor of what is involved. A torn meniscus is tricky and, depending on the severity of the tear, can leave you with no other option but surgery to ensure the best recovery possible.
So, what exactly is a meniscus?
Technically speaking we will call them menisci because you have two in each knee. They are a c-shaped wedge-like piece of tough cartilage that bears the weight of your body and distributes the weight evenly and safely.
Picture this: you are outside running around in the backyard after your five year old son. In order to catch him you must zig zag around the swing set and baby pool. Your menisci are distributing your shifting weight across the knees as you are zigging and zagging to avoid injuring your knees. As I said before, you have two in each knee. They both play an integral role in saving your knees from degenerative damage in the future.
One is located on the inside of the knee and that is called the medial meniscus. The other one is located on the outside of the knee and is known as the lateral meniscus. Your knee joint as a whole is very complex and is comprised of 3 bones – the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shine bone) and patella (knee cap). The surface where they all meet in the knee cap is covered with a layer of cartilage, so when you move your leg and knee, the bones shift over one another smoothly.
When the cartilage or meniscus is torn, it can cause damage to the bone. It aides in performing almost every physical activity and without everything working properly, your idea of a fun afternoon of playing catch the little kid at the park, will be near impossible.
So, who is at risk? And how exactly does this tear happen?
The general mechanical reason for a torn meniscus is when the knee joint is bent and the knee is twisted in a certain direction. Of course, anyone is at risk for an injury like this, especially if it is an accident, like tripping over the sidewalk, slipping on stairs and trying to catch your fall, or just plain tripping over your own two feet.
However, a torn meniscus is most common among athletes who participate in sports where they are moving fast and multi-directional, such as racquet ball, soccer, football or tennis. This type of injury is also found in those with degenerative bone loss. As you get older, your bones and cartilage become brittle making anyone susceptible to this injury without being involved in any type of demanding physical activity.
And unfortunately - to add insult to injury - when you tear your meniscus due to traumatic injury, it is more common for a tear to be accompanied by an ACL and MCL ligament injury. This is notably known as the “unhappy triad” for obvious reasons.
So, this is where I am going to leave off for now. Check back Wednesday where we will discuss symptoms of a torn meniscus, what type of treatment is available, and how to prevent this injury in the future. And always remember - accident prone or not - everyone is susceptible. So watch your step, and be easy on the knees!