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7 Steps to Dealing with Torn Knee Meniscus

Aug 20, 2023

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage in the knee joint that acts as a cushion between the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia).  It helps distribute the load and absorb shock during weight-bearing activities like walking, running, and jumping. It also contributes to stability, lubrication, and preserving the articulation of the knee joint.

The meniscus can be vulnerable to injury, particularly with activities that involve twisting, pivoting, or sudden changes in direction. A tear can occur when the knee is forcefully rotated or subjected to excessive pressure like in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Common sports that contribute to meniscus injury.

  1. Contact sports: Sports like football, rugby, hockey and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu involve frequent physical contact and often result in twisting or direct blows to the knee, increasing the risk of meniscus tears.

  2. Basketball: The quick lateral movements, jumping, and landing in basketball put stress on the knee joint, making it susceptible to meniscus injuries.

  3. Soccer: The combination of running, abrupt stops, changes in direction, and collisions in soccer can lead to meniscus tears.

  4. Tennis: The repetitive pivoting, quick direction changes, and occasional slips or falls can increase the chances of meniscus injuries in tennis players.

  5. Skiing and snowboarding: The high speeds, uneven surfaces, and sudden twists or turns involved in these winter sports can put stress on the knee joint, potentially causing meniscus tears.

Before we get into the 7 Steps to Dealing with Torn Knee Meniscus let's describe each tear. There are 8 different types of tears.  Some more severe than others.

1. Horizontal Tear: Runs parallel to the surface of the meniscus.  This kind of tear can happen from a blister that has formed on the internal portions of the meniscus or from injury.  You'll normally experience pain when doing deep squats.  You can still walk with this kind of tear and in fact many athletes still play with this tear. 

2. Bucket Handle Tear: This is a serious tear.  The meniscus rips away from the back of the knee and flips forward to the front of the knee.  These kinds of tears can be painful and can give the sensation of the knee catching or locking.  You may not be able to fully straighten the knee.  The meniscus can flip back to its original position and will give relief but one wrong move and the meniscus will flip forward again.

3. Vertical Tear: Runs perpendicular to the surface of the meniscus separating it into two pieces.  This kind of tear can happen with sudden twisting or hyperextension of the knee or even simple wear and tear.  This tear may cause pain and clicking or may give the sensation of the knee getting stuck or giving out.  You'll still be able to walk with this kind of tear and athletes can still play with this tear although performance is diminished.

4. Root Tear: This happens when one of the edges of the meniscus pulls away from the bone. This is a serious tear. This typically happens in the back of the knee.  It can cause pain in the back or the inside of the knee and can give the knee the sensation of getting stuck or giving out.  You'll still be able to walk but you may feel pain when walking stairs or hills.

5. Radial Tear:  This is a tear across the web-shaped surface of the meniscus dividing it into two non-functional sections. These kinds of tears may cause pain, limitation in range of motion, and the sensation of the knee catching or locking.  You'll still be able to walk with this kind of tear and athletes can still play.

6. Anterior Horn Tear: (no photo available) This tear occurs in the front part of the meniscus where it attaches to the knee joint. This kind of tear can happen from injury to the knee, sudden twisting or hyperextension, or wear and tear.

7. Intrasubstance Tear: (no photo available) This is a tear that happens due to the formation of a blister that forms in the substance of the meniscus. This is usually caused by limitation in range of motion. You can still walk with this tear and athletes can still play but they may experience pain and decreased performance.

8. Complex Tear: (no photo available) A complex tear is a combination of different tears all at once. These kinds of tears cause pain, swelling and limited range of motion. You can still walk with this tear and athletes can still play but this can be a detriment to your knee health if recovery and strengthening of the muscles and ligaments around the joint are not practiced.

Although you can still stay active and do the things you want with many of the above mentioned tears, the best thing to do in any of these cases is to get an experts opinion.  But there are a few steps you an take if it's acute (before visiting the doctor) or you experience a set-back.

7 Steps to Dealing with Torn Knee Meniscus

1. Rest & Protection: Give your knee a break and use crutches/brace if needed.

2. Ice & Compression: Reduce swelling and pain with ice and compression.

3. Find an Movement Expert to help you heal! Myself and Jessie have helped hundreds, a sports medicine therapist, a Physical Therapy: Work with a pro to create a tailored exercise plan for strength and flexibility.

4. Range of Motion: Gentle stretches keep your knee mobile and prevent stiffness.

5. Strength Training: Build up your quad and hamstring muscles to support the knee.

6. Balance Work: Boost stability and prevent future injuries with balance exercises.

7. Gradual Return: Ease back into activities under guidance.
And unfortunately, if the pain is consistent and your rehab training is not leading to freedom of movement then surgery might be considered.

Check out our Torn Meniscus Strengthening Exercises:

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Jonny and Jessie

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