The scenario is repeated often on the soccer field: a player goes down, grabbing their knee in agony and eventually, is helped off the field. Word comes back: a torn meniscus.
What does this mean? The menisci of the knee are 2 “C” or “U” shaped wedges of cartilage between the major bones of the knee ( the tibia and femur) which help to stabilize the knee, absorb shock and protect the articular cartilage covering the bones of the knee joint.
The menisci are commonly injured in sports, often by a quick turn or twisting of the knee with the foot planted on the ground. Contact with another player may not even have occurred. Injuries to the meniscus often occur concurrently with injuries to the ligaments of the knee. Pain on the inside, outside, or back of the knee with a “catching” or “locking” and restricted bending or straightening can indicate possible meniscus injury. Some minor meniscus injuries can heal with proper rest and restricted activities but if the tear is more severe, arthroscopic surgery may be needed. Repairing the meniscus helps to return the knee to full function and can help prevent arthritis from developing. Some meniscus injuries however, may require partial removal of the damaged tissue.
Rehabilitation following a meniscus injury or surgery requires restoration of normal knee motion and strengthening of muscles- not just around the knee but throughout the entire leg and even in the trunk (core) including work on balance. A word of caution: many patients feel that once the pain has subsided, they are ready to return to sports. Returning to full sports participation should not be based solely on pain level. Good strength, balance, joint mobility and conditioning are all vital to help minimize the chance of re-injury or additional injury. Absence of pain does not necessarily mean ready to play!