Athletes and Meniscus Tears: The Need-to-Know Basics
In young athletes, most injuries to the meniscus are a result of trauma. The menisci are vulnerable to injuries that involve both compression and twisting across the joint, which is a common occurrence in contact sports, like football, as well as in skiing and volleyball. Meniscal injuries also commonly take place in conjunction with other knee injuries, including ACL tears.
If you or one of the athletes in your life has experienced a meniscus tear, there may be swelling and pain in the knee, a popping sensation during the injury, difficulty bending and straightening the leg, and a tendency for the knee to get stuck or locked up.
Pain from a meniscus tear may be bearable at first, and an athlete may be able to continue playing. Continuing to play with a torn meniscus, however, will likely have long-term effects on the knee.
Low-grade meniscus tears can sometimes heal without surgery. We recommend that patients rest the knee and avoid sports or strenuous use. Icing and using an elastic bandage, straps, or sleeves to compress the knee can also control swelling. Returning to sports should be directed by an orthopaedic specialist.
In cases of more severe tears, meniscus repair surgery may be necessary. The decision to get a surgical repair is based on many factors, including the location of the tear and age of the patient. Surgery to remove the torn section of the meniscus is often recommended for patients whose meniscus is unlikely or unable to heal on its own.
The meniscus plays a significant role in the function of the human knee; however, once it’s torn and unable to be repaired, many of the beneficial aspects of that structure are lost.