Torn Meniscus as Part of Aging Process
Arthritis has been plaguing humans since 3000 BC. Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old iceman discovered a few years back in the Alps, had evidence of arthritis.
Arthritis can affect almost any joint but one of its favorite targets is the knees, those humble hinges that allow us to walk, swing, pivot, jump, kneel, and ride a bike.
Arthritis and aching knees are a major culprit in preventing people from engaging in activities they love. If you are a knee patient, you know it first-hand.
One week you’re bicycling around town, walking the dog three times a day, playing 18 holes twice a week . . . and the week day you’re limping like Grandma or Grandpa Moses.
Meniscus Tear And Aging
So what’s going on in there? If you have pain or stiffness, or have trouble straightening your leg, you may have a torn meniscus. The meniscus (menisci is the plural) is a thick band of fibrocartilage that cradles the tibia and femur (leg bones). It also distributes your weight so those bones don’t bear all the weight. Menisci are composed mainly of collagen, which shrinks and dries out as we age. This process makes the meniscus susceptible to tearing.
Meniscal tears can happen even when you’re not involved in a strenuous activity. Sudden trauma— say, a minor fall causes you to twist your knee, or just lifting something heavy (« My grandson came to visit and you wouldn’t believe how he’s grown . . . ») can result in a torn meniscus.
If this sounds familiar, we suggest you call our clinic for an appointment. The doctor will examine you, and manipulate your leg in certain ways. He’ll ask questions:
What were you doing when you noticed the pain? Do you have pain at night when you roll over in your sleep?
The physical exam can give the doctor a good indication of the location and type of damage.
To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order an ultrasound exam or an MRI. (X-rays don’t show soft tissue, so they wouldn’t be useful with this type of injury.)
Doctor may also insert a tiny camera into an incision in your knee, in a procedure called arthroscopy. (There’s also surgical arthroscopy, which is microsurgery using the same tools.)
If the diagnosis shows a torn meniscus, it may respond to conservative therapy such as rest, adjusting your activities (skip the 18 holes for a while), icing the knee, and anti-inflammatory medication. Some patients are candidates for cortisone injections. Physical therapy is often helpful, to show you how to avoid re-injury, and to prescribe exercises to strengthen your leg muscles.
If these treatments don’t do the job, surgery is another option. Repairing or replacing meniscus is a common procedure that has a good success rate. Arthroscopy is a less-invasive procedure for partial menisectomy (removal of the damaged tissue).
If you and your doctor decide that surgery is the right choice for you, you will also be given a rehab program. This consists of exercises and advice to help you avoid future injury while staying active.