As a sports surgeon, meniscal injuries are one of the most common reasons people come to see me. The meniscus is a cartilage cushion layer that acts as an important shock absorber in the knee. This is crucial for the protection of the cartilage in the knee joint.
Meniscus injuries are common and lead to more than 800,000 surgeries every year in the US. Meniscal tears can come in a variety of flavors: from the athlete with a traumatic injury involving other ligaments to a more chronic, isolated degenerative tear in older populations.
If you have a meniscus tear, you’ll likely experience pain and swelling in the knee, especially with twisting motions. These tears can be managed in a variety of ways depending on the type of tear, age and mechanism of injury.
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Unfortunately, due to its poor blood supply, meniscal tissue does not heal well, making it all the more important to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place. While traumatic tears are to a certain degree unavoidable, there are things that can be done to lower your risk of tears.
1. Strengthen your legs and core.
Maintaining strong legs and core muscles can reduce the pressure transferred through the meniscus. Take time to focus on different groups around the leg, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors and adductors, as well as core musculature.
Remember to be patient—it takes time to build these muscles. Start with low weights and repetitions, and slowly build up from there.
2. Dynamic stretching.
It is important that prior to activities or athletic participation, you take the time to activate all muscle groups and joints appropriately. This will not only reduce your risk of injury during activity but will also decrease your soreness afterwards.
Dynamic stretching utilizes more movement-based stretching as opposed to traditional static stretches where certain positions are held. These movements mimic the movements that will be done in the activity or sport.
3. Listen to your knees.
When you have increased pain or symptoms, it is important to listen to your knees. You are at higher risk for injury when you are in pain or fatigued. Soreness after activity is normal and to be expected, but if you have persistent or sharp pain that does not improve, it is best to be evaluated by a sports medicine physician.
You want to start with the basics of rest, ice and anti-inflammatories, and avoid activities that may cause further damage.
4. Address other injuries.
People who have had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries without repair can be predisposed to an almost five times higher risk for meniscal injuries. The knee should be stabilized, particularly in younger and more active people. Even in those whose growth plates are still open, research has shown it is critical to repair the ACL to prevent secondary injuries.
If you find yourself with increasing pain, instability, catching or locking of your knee, schedule an evaluation by an orthopedic sports medicine physician who can help you move better.
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About the author
Stephen Mathew, MD, is a sports medicine surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie and Midlothian. He is fellowship trained in both pediatric and adult sports medicine and specializes in arthroscopic meniscal treatments including meniscal debridement, repair and transplantation. Connect with Dr. Mathew today.