Your knee has two areas of cartilage tissue that act as shock absorbers, spacers and stabilisers for the joint. Each of these is called a meniscus.
Meniscal knee cartilage injuries happen when either of these cartilage sections is torn.
The inner (medial) meniscus is more likely to be the one you injure, as it carries more of your weight and attaches to ligaments in your knee that can be the actual source of injury.
What causes knee cartilage injuries?
Meniscal knee cartilage injuries can be caused in two ways.
The damage can be caused by trauma, such as suddenly twisting your knee during sport.
The damage can also develop over time as you get older.
What are the symptoms of knee cartilage injuries?
The symptoms you experience will depend on the type and position of the tear that has occurred. Some may be mild and disappear after a few weeks, but for most people the symptoms will persist, or flare up again and again, unless treated.
Typical symptoms include:
- Pain when straightening your knee, twisting it or squatting down.
- Being unable to fully straighten your knee.
- Your knee sometimes ‘locking’ in one position or ‘catching’ when you walk.
- Your knee giving way when you put weight on that leg.
Some people may also experience swelling around the knee and this can last for several months.
How are knee cartilage injuries diagnosed?
It is important to seek a medical opinion, because the two types of injury (sudden or gradual) may need to be treated differently.
There are also other, similar, knee injuries, such as articular cartilage injuries, which may need to be ruled out.
What are the treatment options for knee cartilage injuries?
Smaller tears in the meniscal cartilage may heal themselves in a matter of weeks, with the appropriate rest, pain management and gentle exercise to maintain knee health. Your doctor or physiotherapist will be able to advise.
If you have a more severe tear and it occurred suddenly, it is possible that surgery may be the best option for you, particularly if you are under 30 years’ old.
If your symptoms have developed gradually, and you are over 45, your doctor may advise you that rehabilitation is a better option for you than surgery.
In both of these cases, your treatment will include a rehabilitation programme to increase your range of movement, improve your balance and coordination, and build up your strength again.
What is the prognosis (outlook) for knee cartilage injuries?
For most people who have had surgery to repair meniscal cartilage injuries, recovery will typically take 6-12 weeks.
The process of rehabilitation from meniscus injuries that developed gradually can take much longer, depending on the individual and the amount of work they need to put in.
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