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How Common Are Meniscus Tears in the Knee?

  • Mar 19 2020

Are tears of the meniscus in the knee very common and do they require knee surgery?

If you pay attention to sports at all, there is a pretty good chance that you have heard of a meniscus tear. Although it is not necessarily a season-ender, it is a significant knee injury that can sideline a player for several weeks, if not months. This is especially true for professional athletes who seem to go out of their way to test the limits of their knees in sports like basketball, football, tennis and soccer. 

Of course, meniscus tears are not confined to athletes. In fact, even though it seems like everyone has either had knee replacement surgery or knows someone who has, there are more knee surgeries done in the U.S. for meniscus repairs than for knee replacements. 

Causes of Meniscus Tears

The term meniscus comes from the Greek meniskos, which means “crescent” and is used to describe the crescent-shaped cartilage in the knee. It is also found in the joints of the neck, wrist and shoulder, but, the vast majority of the time, when you hear someone refer to a meniscus tear, it is a reference to the knee. There are two menisci in each knee providing cushion-like protection between the tibia and the femur. The lateral meniscus is located on the outside of the joint and the medial meniscus on the inside. 

Tears in the meniscus fall into two basic types. The first type is the one we hear about in the news when a superstar sports figure has been injured. It is the result of trauma, like being hit on the side of the knee, or from the stress of severe twists or changes of direction. These tears can also happen due to overuse, which, while common in sports, is also found in various occupations and other activities.

Meniscus tears that are not due to injury or overuse typically fall in the second category, which is the cumulative wear and tear of aging. With time, not only does cartilage weaken and become thinner, all tissue begins to lose its moisture content, which makes it more susceptible to tearing. Simple movements that were easily done in the past can be the cause of a meniscus tear in the knee. 

Treatment Options for Meniscus Tears in the Knee

Every situation is different and treatment for your particular injury will depend on the location of the tear and how severe it is. Your orthopedist will take into consideration your age, how active your lifestyle is and other health-related issues. 

In cases where the tear is more severe, arthroscopic surgery may be necessary. Fortunately, however, for most people, treatment will involve conservative, non-invasive methods. Typically, recommendations will include some combination of:

  • RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation. This standard practice will go a long way in reducing the pain and swelling
  • Medications – pain and anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed or recommended
  • Physical therapy – if necessary, stretching and exercise guided by a physical therapist may be helpful
  • Cortisone injections – corticosteroid injections, administered with ultrasound guidance, may be especially helpful for combating inflammation

If you have questions about meniscus tears or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here

South Island Orthopedics’ Guide to Bone and Joint Care

Posted in: Knee