Positioned atop the tibia, or shin bone, the horse-shoe shaped menisci help absorb the stress that walking puts on our knees. The unique shape of the meniscus allows the femur, or thigh bone, to glide over it during bending or straightening of the knee. Tears of these pivotal disks of cartilage are actually quite common. Such injuries are typically caused by traumatic events such as tripping, falling off a stair, or being hit in the knee during sports. In addition to reported meniscal tears, MRIs reveal that many patients over age 30 have menisci that show significant signs of wear and some related tearing.
From locking knees to persistent pain, large tears in the meniscus can be quite limiting. Sometimes, these tears may smooth themselves down (similar to a torn part of a piece of paper), providing relief. Regardless of the size of the tear, the following four prescribed management techniques apply. First, try #1 and #2, in hopes of avoiding #3 and #4.
1. Try not to twist your ankle when your foot is on the ground and supporting your weight, and try to avoid stairs as much as possible. (This is one time that the idea of choosing stairs over the elevator would not be the most healthful option.)
2. Encourage knee rest. This may mean limiting otherwise positive activities such as sports or even running, bicycling, or extended walking. Working through this kind of pain will not benefit your body; instead, taking a break from activities that will discourage the tears from healing will give them a chance to smooth over, eliminating the need for medical interventions.
3. See a physical therapist. If your tear is small enough, a physical therapist can move the knee in a way that encourages the meniscus to smooth down. He or she can also suggest safe exercises in order to maintain a strong hip and leg muscles during times when you’re resting your knee.
4. Visit your primary care giver to see about having your meniscal tear officially diagnosed. Your physician will probably refer you to an orthopedic surgeon. If a large tear is discovered and it has resisted conservative management techniques, surgery will probably be recommended. The surgery involved is among the least complicated surgeries that orthopedic surgeons perform; however, it does seem to encourage arthritis later in life.
Ultimately, if nothing else relieves your torn meniscus, the choice of surgery is still your own. Does the knee pain you experience keep you from activities you enjoy? If so, then surgery may be worthwhile. If not, though, you may be able to cope with the pain and alter your lifestyle in order to avoid surgery and the potential of more pain in the future.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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