What is a Meniscus?
The meniscus are crescent shaped pads of cartilage, located in the knee joint in between the thigh bone and the shin bone.
In a healthy knee joint you have one meniscus on each side of your knee which are named based on the location in relation to the joint. The medial meniscus is located on the inside the knee joint (closest to the center of the body) whereas the lateral meniscus is located on the outside of the joint.
The role of the menisci is to absorb the impact of your upper leg on the lower. They also help to stabilize the knee joint and keep movement as smooth as possible.
What is a meniscus tear?
Many people will have heard the term ‘damaged’ or ‘torn’ cartilage and it’s these terms that usually mean a meniscus injury. Meniscus tears often occur for one of two reasons, either: 1. As a result of trauma – when a large amount of force is applied through the joint often resulting in further injuries to ligaments in the knee. Or: 2. Because of wear and tear – often a twisting the knee awkwardly when you stand up for example.
Meniscal tears are graded on the severity of the injury. They are categorized by looking at the length, depth and pattern of the tear. Grade 1 and 2 injuries are typically managed non-surgically whereas a grade 3 tear will usually result in some form of surgery.
What are typical symptoms of a meniscus tear?
At the time of the tear occurring some individuals often feel a pop in the knee. Depending on the severity you may still be able to walk on the injured knee but it’s likely over the next couple of days the knee will gradually stiffen up to the point that you are unable to bend or extend your knee fully.
Pain in the knee can vary in severity and longevity and it can occasionally come and go. Swelling will usually occur hours after the tear has occurred. However, depending on the usual anatomy of your knee joint, you may already have a level of swelling therefore swelling alone is not an indication of this injury.
Depending on the type of tear you have suffered, you may find that you have a clicking sound in your knee when it bends, or your knee can lock out. This usually occurs when part of the meniscus is catching on other areas of the joint.
There are several physical examinations that can be conducted by a physiotherapist, or other trained medical professionals, to narrow down various problems of the knee joint, but to truly diagnose a torn meniscus you will need an MRI scan to show the meniscus.
Meniscus Injury Treatment options, non-surgical and surgical
In the first instance of injury, it is pain and swelling that are usually the most prominent symptoms and therefore form the basis of initial treatment. Usually, this would involve using the POLICE procedure (Protect, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression and Elevation), a slight variation on the RICE principle (Rest, Ice, Compression Elevation).
To avoid further damage to the knee, for the first three days after injury you should avoid running, massage, heat and alcohol. These will put additional loads/forces on the already weak joint or they will relax the muscles and structures around the joint that are helping to provide stability. To help relieve pain, you may wish to take over the counter painkillers, some of which will also help to reduce inflammation and swelling. In some cases where pain is a major limiting factor, stronger painkillers may be prescribed by your GP.
As mentioned earlier, depending on the type and severity of the tear you may be offered conservative non-surgical treatment. Conservative treatment in physiotherapy will be designed around 4 main areas: strength exercises, flexibility exercises, mobility of the joint and balance/agility work. These areas are intended to keep the range of motion in the knee joint and bring it back to the level it was pre-injury.
In cases where this is not enough, surgery may be considered, although this is often seen as a last resort. The surgical procedure may attempt to repair the tear or may include removing the area of damaged meniscus completely. Following any surgical procedure there would be a period of recovery involving a physiotherapeutic pathway.
Do I need a knee support?
Knee supports can certainly help. This will largely depend on your stage of recovery and the instability of the knee joint. Overall, supports can be beneficial, especially during the first stage of the recovery when reducing swelling and protecting the joint is crucial.
At Neo G our medical grade, Airflow Plus Stabilized Knee Support can be a great starting point for your recovery once pain is under control. It is made from a lightweight, breathable material which provides multi zone compression to help with swelling of the joint and maintains blood flow safety. The support contains spiral stays on either side of the knee joint which provide additional support, as well as give a helping hand to extend the knee from a flexed position. The support also includes a silicone patella cushion which helps protect the kneecap and reduce the impact on the knee joint, which is one of the main roles of the meniscus.
As with all supports, this should be used in conjunction with a specific treatment plan and shouldn’t be completely relied upon as the sole form of care.
How long should I wear a knee support?
When the strength in your hamstrings and quads has increased to the point that the joint is stable enough without the additional added side support stays in the Airflow Plus Stabilized Knee Support, it is recommended to move onto a product with a mild to moderate support level, such as the the Active Knee Support. The Active Knee Support will still provide suitable support and compression to your knee when swelling may still be an issue. Following this stage, we recommend moving onto a milder form of support, such as our Airflow Knee Support, when the knee joint is stable enough and swelling is either no longer an issue or very minimal.
We hope this provides some guidance on Meniscus injuries and tears. If you have any concerns about Meniscus tears and injuries, seek advice from your GP.
With all information, please check that it is relevant to your individual circumstances and if you are ever unsure check with a medical professional.
For support in everyday activities, the Airflow and Airflow+ ranges offer lightweight, slimline supports that protect and reduce the impact on joints and muscles. Perfect for taking a walk, playing sport or support with day to day strain.
Our Active range of knitted supports provide a snug, yet flexible fit during sporting and occupational activities. Multi Zone Compression surrounds muscles and joints for targeted support and the multi-way stretch allows flexible and safe movement, providing comfortable support and reducing the likelihood of injury. The specialist breathable fabric helps control moisture during intense activities, whilst the slimline, lightweight design means it can easily be worn under clothes for everyday wear.
Our VCS range offers varying levels of support from mild to moderate to firm to provide optimum protection and stability. As a one size solution, these supports are fully adjustable to allow for a custom fit. In addition to this, the heat therapeutic neoprene helps to warm muscles and joints during exercise and rehabilitation, making the VCS range perfect for supporting instability during weights and gym training, as well as helping strains, sprains and weak, arthritic joints.