The menisci are two discs of cartilage in the knee, each shaped like a “C”. The meniscus plays a crucial role in stabilizing the knee, and allowing shock absorption for the knees and legs. If you experience a meniscus tear, it can lead to pain and unsteadiness in the joint and can even lead to eventual osteoarthritis.
You may be asking yourself if your torn meniscus will heal on its own, and are there any exercises or activities that can help to aid the process?
Identifying the injury
Usually your meniscus will tear when you experience a forceful twisting or rotating of the knee, or sustain an acute injury. If you’ve felt a popping sensation in your knee, followed by swelling, pain (especially when twisting) and difficulty extending your leg, you likely have a torn meniscus.
However, not all tears are due to injury – in fact, most meniscus tears are due to time, wear and tear, and general degeneration. One course of action could include the following:
- Medication, such as ibuprofen
If these remedies help the knee, and the symptoms disappear and do not persist, you may be able to heal the tear naturally. Research has shown that the healing potential of certain tears of the meniscus have enough blood supply to bring healing nutrients to the tear, subsequently healing the tissue surrounding it. Further, gentle exercise may help the blood flow and the flexibility of the knee area, increasing the chance to heal.
Surrounding support is necessary
If a nonsurgical approach is taken, your recovery plan should be committed to for the long-term. You need to ensure that the muscles surrounding the knee are stable and strong, as well as aim to maintain a healthy body weight so that there isn’t too much strain on the knees. Also try to avoid activities that will be hard on the knees. It can take up to 8 weeks before your knee will be fully healed.
The likelihood it will not heal
If the area remains stiff and your knee area feels “locked” for a long period of time, it is unlikely that your meniscus will heal itself naturally. It is now that surgical options should be explored, and you should book an appointment with your orthopedic surgeon for an opinion.
The good news is that previously, research showed that tears to the outer 1/3 of the meniscus were the only meniscus injuries that were repairable. However, now thanks to new research and developments in orthopedics, those horizontal and radial tears of the meniscus are all capable of healing through surgery.
Even more, a surgical meniscectomy may be performed, which is when the orthopedic surgeon removes the damaged cartilage, usually through arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is when a small tube is inserted into the knee. This small tube contains a camera and a light that can assist the surgeon with evaluating and repairing the knee with little invasion.
Keep in mind here though that cartilage cannot be repaired properly once it is damaged, and removal of the cartilage may be the only feasible option.
For the most part, if you have a small tear at the outer edge of the meniscus, home treatments, rest and rehabilitation may be enough. If your tear is moderate, also contained to the outer edge of the meniscus, surgery may be necessary and useful, as these kinds of tears respond well to surgery.
A knee specialist can help
Unfortunately, there are types of tears that don’t respond well to surgery or home healing care and require an expert surgeon. The tears of the inner meniscus and radial tears are challenging. These types of tears are usually due to degeneration and more acute injury. However, a surgeon may apply some precautionary care to the injury by removing a few pieces of the damaged cartilage to reduce pain and swelling. It is also important to remember that cartilage can never be repaired to perfect condition. For that reason, it is important to commit to prevention, including maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding injury and keeping your muscles strong and flexible.