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The cartilage that provides a cushion between your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) is known as the meniscus, and each knee joint has two.

During activities that rotate or put pressure on the knee such as a hard rugby tackle or sudden netball pivot, the meniscus can tear or be damaged.

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The sound of 'popping' around your knee is perhaps the first symptom of a meniscus tear. You may then experience symptoms including: -

  • Difficulty moving your knee
  • Pain when the area is touched
  • Swelling
  • Your knee feels like it is locking or catching
  • Your knee unable to support you or giving way

Your GP will discuss your symptoms and then conduct a physical examination of your knee. They may perform a McMurray test: -

  1. Bending your knee then
  2. Straightening your knee then
  3. Rotating your knee

During the test you may hear a slight pop!

Other investigations may include: -

  • Knee X-ray - to rule out other reasons such as osteoarthritis
  • MRI - to take pictures of cartilage and ligaments and determine a meniscus tear
  • Ultrasound - to determine if you have any loose cartilage that may be getting caught in your knee.

Arthroscopy may be used to study your knee if the doctor is unable to discover the cause of your knee pain. Through small incisions near the knee, a fibre-optic device is inserted allowing the surgeon to use cameras and other surgical instruments to diagnose the cause.

Activities that require a sudden turn or pivot, deep squatting or heavy lifting can result in a meniscal tear. However, the most common reason for a meniscal tear is sporting activities involving forced rotation or twists. Some sports where participants are at risk include: -

  • Athletics
  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Tennis
  • Basketball

As children and adolescents become more involved in competitive sports, we are seeing meniscus tears becoming increasingly common, especially when focusing on just one sport.

With age, the meniscus weakens, and tears are more common in people over the age of 30. Stepping or squatting can lead to injury in someone with a weak meniscus. Other degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis can make you more prone to tear.

RICE a conservative technique

Rest - Avoid any weight bearing on the joint or activities that may worsen your symptoms
Ice - Apply to your knee every three to four hours for 30 minutes
Compress - Wrap the knee in an elastic bandage to reduce inflammation
Elevate - Your knee to reduce swelling

Other treatments

  • Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Physical therapy - your GP may recommend this to help strengthen muscles, reduce pain and increase your knees overall mobility.

Surgery
If your knee isn’t responding to the treatments above, your doctor may recommend arthroscopic surgery.

The following links may also prove useful: -

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