Meniscus tear: surgery or physical therapy?
There are some parts of the body that you don’t tend to learn about until you’ve injured them in some way. That’s certainly true of the meniscus. You may never have heard of it until you’re grasping your painful knee and are told you’ve torn the meniscus.
So, what is the meniscus? And, if you’ve torn it, should you opt for surgery or physiotherapy?
What is the meniscus?
Your meniscus is a C-shaped wad of cartilage that sits inside your knee. Each knee has two menisci – one on the inside and one on the outside knee. These shock-absorbing pads sit between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin), helping your lower leg bear the weight of your body.
How can you tear your meniscus?
Any activity that involves forcefully twisting your knee can lead to a torn meniscus. Sports like tennis, basketball and football can easily lead to a torn meniscus. But you don’t have to be doing something dramatic. Sometimes just kneeling, doing a deep squat or lifting something heavy can tear the meniscus. It’s one of the most common knee injuries there is.
Age and weight may also increase the risk of a meniscus tear.
What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?
If you’ve torn your meniscus, you may experience:
- Pain and swelling in your knee
- A sense of catching or locking in your knee joint
- Feeling like your knee is about to give way
- Inability to fully move your knee.
How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?
Those symptoms can also be caused by a number of other knee complaints so it’s important to seek a proper diagnosis from a medical professional if you’re experiencing knee pain.
A meniscus tear can be diagnosed after:
- A physical examination of your knee
- An assessment of your symptoms
- Imaging scans such as an X-ray or MRI.
How is a meniscus tear treated?
The right treatment for your meniscus tear depends on factors like:
- Your age, overall health and fitness
- The severity of the tear
- Which activities you’re keen to resume
- Your preferences.
Treatment options may include:
- Pain relief
- Resting from activities that aggravate your knee
- Using ice or heat therapy
- Managing any underlying arthritis
- Physiotherapy to help stabilise and support your knee joint by strengthening the surrounding muscles
- Surgery (knee arthroscopy) to repair or trim the torn meniscus or, if you have advanced arthritis, to replace the knee itself.
Should you have surgery or physiotherapy for a meniscus tear?
It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice.
Usually in healthcare, we recommend the most conservative treatment options first. That means you would start with physiotherapy, following a non-invasive program of exercises and other treatments designed to strengthen and stabilise your knee.
If your knee responds well, you may find that you’re well on the road to recovery and able to get back to your usual activities with confidence.
If your knee is not healing well despite the physiotherapy, you might decide to see an orthopaedic surgeon and investigate whether surgery would help.
Surgery to repair the meniscus is most successful if you:
- Are young
- Have good knee stability overall
- Have torn an area of the meniscus that has a good blood supply
- Have repair surgery within a few weeks of the injury.
How can The Brisbane Spine Clinic help?
Our experienced physiotherapists provide high-quality care for your injured knee, diagnosing and treating meniscus tears and encouraging you by measuring your progress. We can help you decide whether surgery would help and, if you do opt for an op, we can support you through prehab and rehab, aiming to get you back to the lifestyle you love as fully as possible.
Please book an appointment today.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances.