There are a lot of things that can go wrong in your knee, but over a lifetime it really is amazing just how well the knees last for most of us. From sun up to sundown, decade after decade, your knees are carrying you from adventure to adventure. Most of the time they provide flawless service, but one all too common diagnosis is a meniscal tear. The “menisci” are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage inside the knee. They sit in between the femur or thigh bone and the tibia or shin bone. There they absorb massive amounts of stress. With each step you transmit three-five times your body weight through the knee and some sources suggest as much as seven times your weight goes through the knee with running.
As we age our cartilage dries out. The cross-linking in our skin fails and we develop wrinkles, the collagen in our spinal discs dry out and we get herniated discs. In the knee, our meniscal cartilage ages and dries out and as a result it is at increased risk for tearing. The development of arthritis or “bone-inflammation” creates small, little rough edges on the ends of the femur and tibia and these in turn can also increase the risk of a meniscal tear. As you might guess, being overweight increases the forces on the meniscus and increases your risk of arthritis. Other unhealthy habits like smoking also set you up for more problems.
People who experience meniscal tears often complain of pain in the knee with some knee swelling and or clicking, popping, grinding in the joint. Others may experience limited range of motion and not be able to move the knee fully. Mild meniscal tears can be treated without expensive imaging or surgery. Often a course of exercise-based physical therapy focused on correcting muscle imbalances and improving flexibility is all that you need to get going again. If the more conservative measures fail to do the trick, then we use injections into the joint to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Surgery is also an option, especially for more severe tears which are limiting range of motion or causing knee instability.
First things first. If you are looking to reduce your risk of a meniscal tear don’t hang your jogging shoes up. Too much running is not the problem. In fact, if you read a recent article on physical activity and knee arthritis we wrote, you can see that loading the cartilage may improve cartilage health. Worthwhile goals are to work toward achieving your ideal weight, avoiding toxins and starting a good strengthening program to maximize quad and glute medius strength in particular. We have some good programs available in the store. Print one out and start using it regularly.
To learn more about meniscal tears or to schedule a consultation, contact us.