A meniscus tear feels different from other knee injuries like an ACL rupture, patellar tendon rupture, muscle strain or joint dislocation, which involve larger structures, require more force to tear, and are often felt as a pop, stretch or tear with immediate burning and sharp pain. The meniscus, a gelatinous C-shaped disc, does not have a lot of nerves to sense pain, and there is not as much local blood flow.
Mending a meniscus tear by an orthopedic surgeon is a fairly simple procedure. It causes little trauma, since it does not affect the bone, and nothing needs to be replaced. There may be some swelling and stiffness, but many times there is less pain immediately after surgery. Pain related to the meniscus is generally hard to pinpoint—an MRI diagnosis is required. The pain is usually described as an ache to the front, on either side, or on a spot at the back of the knee.
A meniscus tear usually causes swelling, a loss of range of motion, and pain during weight-bearing activity and at the extremes of range of motion. Many times the knee will "lock," "click" or "pop" with movement.
Because the meniscus is not involved in dynamic joint stability, it is generally safer to resume activity sooner than with other knee injuries.
Alleviating the Pain
Try walking on an underwater treadmill. Swim gently to loosen up the knee. And try non-weight-bearing range-of-motion exercises like Heel Slides, Supine Hamstring Stretches and Wall Slides.
Perform Straight Leg Raises lying on your back, on each side and on your stomach.
Do Ankle Pumps by simply flexing your ankle as if stepping on and off a gas pedal. Also try Quad Sets—isometric contraction of the quads to improve blood flow and decrease swelling.
Overall, as with other knee injuries, each meniscus injury is different based on the location and size of the tear. It's important to have the injury properly diagnosed and treated to ensure you receive care at the right time and in the right way.
- How to Prevent a Meniscus Injury
- The Athlete's Trouble Spots: Knees and Shoulders
- STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them
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