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Knee Pain, Possible Torn Meniscus

The “meniscus” is a tough cartilage pad that cushions the inside of the knee joint. It serves as a shock absorber and spreads the weight of your body evenly across the knee joint. This prevents excess wear and tear to the bones of that joint.

The most common causes of meniscal tears are due to injury (especially related to sports) and degenerative disease (as occurs with aging).

A meniscus tear commonly occurs during a twisting injury when the knee is bent. This causes pain, swelling, reduced movement of the knee and difficulty walking. There may be popping, clicking, joint locking or inability to completely straighten the knee. Ligaments of the knee may also be injured.

Initial diagnosis of a torn meniscus is by physical exam and x-rays. In the case of an acute injury, the knee may be too painful to examine fully. A more accurate exam can be performed after the initial swelling goes down. An MRI (magnetic image scan) may be ordered to make a final diagnosis.

Initial treatment of a suspected meniscal injury is with ice and rest and preventing movement of the knee. A splint or Velcro knee immobilizer may be applied to protect the joint. Depending on the severity of the injury, surgery may be required. A cartilage injury may take 4-12 weeks to heal depending on the severity.

Home Care:

  1. Stay off the injured leg as much as possible until you can walk on it without pain. If you have a lot of pain with walking, crutches or a walker may be prescribed. (These can be rented or purchased at many pharmacies and surgical or orthopedic supply stores). Follow your doctor's advice regarding when to begin bearing weight on that leg.

  2. Keep your leg elevated to reduce pain and swelling. When sleeping, place a pillow under the injured leg. When sitting, support the injured leg so it is level with your waist. This is very important during the first 48 hours.

  3. Apply an ice pack (ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel) over the injured area for 20 minutes every 1-2 hours the first day. You can place the ice pack directly over the splint. If a Velcro knee immobilizer was applied, you can open this to apply the ice pack directly to the knee. Continue with ice packs 3-4 times a day for the next two days, then as needed for the relief of pain and swelling.

  4. You may use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. [NOTE: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.]

  5. If you were given a splint, keep it completely dry at all times. Bathe with your splint out of the water, protected with a large plastic bag, rubber-banded at the top end. If a fiberglass splint gets wet, you can dry it with a hair-dryer. If you have a Velcro knee immobilizer, you can remove this to bathe, unless told otherwise.

  6. Check with your doctor before returning to sports or full work duties.

Follow Up

with your doctor, or as advised, within 1-2 weeks for another exam. Further testing may be required to assess the extent of your injury.

[NOTE: If X-rays were taken, they will be reviewed by a radiologist. You will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care.]

Get Prompt Medical Attention

if any of the following occur:

  • Toes or foot becomes swollen, cold, blue, numb or tingly

  • Pain or swelling increases over the knee or calf

  • Warmth or redness appears over the knee or calf

  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

  • Fever over 100.4°F (38.0°C)

 

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