A torn meniscus is painful, and it seriously disrupts your quality of life. Meniscus repair is an important skill that a good orthopedic surgeon in Phoenix will have mastered, however, and at Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ, we can help you get back on your feet and feeling like yourself again. But can an injury like this heal without intervention?
Can a Torn Meniscus Heal on Its Own?
Unfortunately, this is one of those injuries that will almost never heal on its own. Our bodies accomplish healing via the circulatory system. Simply put, our blood moves healing factors to damaged tissues, which are then able to repair themselves. This means that any part of the body that has a limited circulation of blood will have a very limited ability to heal itself. The meniscus is one of those areas with a very limited blood supply.
The outer third of the meniscus does have blood vessels, and this area can potentially heal itself, though this requires a lot of time and complete rest. The really bad news is that two-thirds of the meniscus has no blood vessels at all, and this area cannot heal itself. It requires outside intervention, so if even if part of your tear involves the outer third of the meniscus, if even a very tiny part of the tear involves the inner two-thirds, the injury will never fully heal without help. Only an orthopedic professional will be able to accurately diagnose your tear.
What Are the Symptoms of a Tear?
Pain in your knee joint will be the primary symptom of a tear, and you may also experience a general feeling of weakness in your leg as well as a sense that your knee is somehow buckling or is ready to give way unexpectedly. You may not feel pain when walking normally across a flat surface, but the pain will manifest when you do any twisting or pivoting motion, while going up or down stairs, or when getting in or out of a car. You may also experience swelling and inflammation in the area, and you may have a locking sensation in your knee.
How Will the Doctor Diagnose a Tear?
Your doctor will start by asking about symptoms and whether you experienced a specific injury. Then, a physical examination will help the doctor understand more about the location of the tear and its severity. At that point, it’s often a good idea to get some kind of radiological imaging done or an MRI. There are two reasons these are important. First, they help to precisely locate the tear and reveal exactly how extensive it is and what type it is. Second, they allow your doctor to rule out any other issues that could be causing the pain, like a fracture.
If you think you have a meniscus tear, it’s important to get an evaluation by an orthopedic professional for the best possible outcome.
What Is a Meniscus?
Your knee joint brings together your thigh bone and your shin bone, and the meniscus spans these two and provides cushioning between them. You have one meniscus on the inside of your knee and one on the outside: the former is known as the medial meniscus, and the latter is the lateral meniscus. These menisci are made of a type of cartilage, and they are key structures in your knee.
When you stand up, the meniscus keeps your bones from grinding against each other as your weight moves from your thigh to your shin bone. The meniscus also transfers your weight evenly across the knee joint so no one area is particularly stressed. This allows your knee to function normally and preserves the long-term health of the knee. This is why it’s so important to get help when you have a tear.
Untreated tears get worse with time, and this puts greater and greater stress on your knee. Over time, this stress can cause you to develop arthritis in the knee. And if you are an active person, you’ll find yourself constantly frustrated that you can’t “do more” with your injured knee.
Types of Meniscal Tears
Your menisci can be torn in one of two ways. The first way is called a “traumatic” tear, and this usually happens suddenly as a result of an injury. It’s most commonly seen in athletes, who tear their meniscus when jumping, pivoting, or taking off running. The meniscus is most often injured when the knee is forcefully twisted, which is most common in sports like basketball, football, and soccer. However, this type of injury can happen to anyone in an unlucky knee twist, and sometimes even from repetitive squatting.
The other type of tear is degenerative and happens over time. This type is most often seen in older people, but it can also happen in younger people, as well. It’s caused primarily by the simple breakdown of the menisci over time, though the immediate precipitating factor could be an activity or injury where the knee is twisted. It’s important for a doctor to diagnose whether a tear is degenerative or traumatic because the pattern of the tear, and treatment, will typically be different.
What Treatment Will an Orthopedic Surgeon in Phoenix Recommend?
There are some people who can recover with non-surgical treatments, which typically involve anti-inflammatory medication along with strategic rest and activity. A physical therapist will work with the patient to help them understand when and how to keep the knee protected and when and how to move it and surrounding muscles for recovery.
The first step for non-surgical treatment is to reduce pain, but the final goal is always full motion for the knee. In the beginning, you may primarily rest the knee and take anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen. When the initial stage is over, the focus will be on restoring motion and strengthening muscles. Platelet-rich plasma is also a good option here for some patients. This treatment can be tried when there are no separated meniscal fragments. This is most common in the milder forms of degenerative tears. Degenerated tears that cause fragmenting, and most traumatic tears, are more likely to need surgery.
The most common treatment is a knee arthroscopy. Very tiny incisions are made in the knee, and a fiberoptic camera is inserted. This camera is equipped with special surgical instruments that allow the doctor to carefully trim any fragments and then repair the tear. The goal is always to repair any part of the meniscus that has blood supply and will be able to heal. However, if the tear is in the part of the meniscus that has no blood vessels, which is the case for the majority of tears, then it can’t be repaired and needs to be removed.
When it comes to degenerative tears, those loose fragments of the meniscus are usually what cause the feeling of the knee locking up, and these often can’t be repaired because of poor blood vessel supply to the area. In this case, removal is usually the best option, but you’ll discuss all options with us before any surgery is performed.
FAQ About Treatment
How Long Does Surgery Recovery Take?
It’s not possible to answer this question in any detailed way, since it depends on the nature of the injury and the overall health of the individual. In some cases, where a tear is repaired, you may be able to start putting weight on the knee about a month to six weeks after surgery. If the torn part of the meniscus is simply removed, it may be just a few days before you can start putting weight on it.
Just remember that the goal is not to get back on your feet within X number of days but to get an excellent result. We want to be sure you have a full range of motion in your knee and full muscle strength by the end, and that goal will help to determine what choices are made during your recovery.
Get Started on Meniscus Repair in Phoenix, AZ
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a meniscus tear, don’t let it get any worse. This is not the sort of injury that will heal on its own. However, you can regain knee function and enjoy being active again with a meniscus repair. Reach out to us at Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ, and let us help you back on your feet.