What are the menisci?
The menisci are two rubbery “shock absorbers” found in the knee that are made of cartilage. These crescent-shaped discs sit between the thighbone (femur) and the leg bone (tibia). The lateral meniscus is in the outer knee while the medial meniscus is in the inner knee.
What is a lateral meniscus tear?
Both menisci can tear when put under enough stress or strain. The lateral meniscus can tear in a number of different ways including a complex tear – a tear in more than one direction. Others include a bucket handle tear where a relatively big piece of meniscus tears and jams the knee, causing it to become stuck.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a lateral meniscus tear include:
- Pain on the outside of your knee
- Swollen knees
- Giving way
- Sharp pain
- Aching pain
You might also feel some tenderness if you press the side of the leg along the joint line. Some patients can feel a lump on the side of their leg that feels hard like a bone – especially when they bend their knee or stretch their leg out. Although this feels like a bone, it’s actually a cyst filled up with fluid.
Who is most likely to tear their lateral meniscus?
There are three different groups of people who most commonly have a lateral meniscus tear:
- With teenagers, especially those who are hypermobile – or “double jointed” – the lateral meniscus can come away from the wall it’s usually attached to and the knee locks. These tears are often not seen easily on MRI scans, so the scan may inaccurately report that there isn’t a problem.
- ii) Middle-aged people who rupture their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while running can also tear the lateral meniscus at the same time. Treatment for ACL can include surgery or knee supports such as a knee brace. Click here to find out more about ACL injury>>.
iii) The lateral meniscus is particularly susceptible to tearing in older patients because it is more brittle.
What causes a lateral meniscus tear?
A lateral meniscus tear is usually caused by activity. In younger people, that could be running or any sport that involves twisting and turning, such as football, rugby or tennis. In older people with a slightly worn meniscus, it can tear more easily – for example, by twisting quickly or squatting down to reach something.
What is the first thing you should do if you think you have a lateral meniscus tear?
Start with the RICE formula – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – and analgesics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
If your symptoms persist and you struggle with your usual activities or your favourite sports, this is the time when our sports physician’s or a knee specialist’s are asked to give a diagnosis and treatment plan to return you to sports..
What is the treatment for a lateral meniscus tear?
If you see a specialist knee doctor, they will listen to your story and will almost always be able to make their knee pain diagnosis based on what you tell them.
This will usually be followed by an MRI scan and often an x-ray. In about one in ten cases in which a tear is diagnosed, knee surgery is not required and the best treatment is rest, physiotherapy and time.
Most lateral meniscus tears will need knee keyhole surgery and it’s quite common to take bits of the meniscus away, which means the patient will go on to become more prone to surfaces wearing.This can lead to osteoarthritis, where the joint cartilage and the bone underneath wear down, which means your knee can feel painful, warm and swollen. People can live quite safely with osteoarthritis for many years.
How to recover from a lateral meniscus tear
You will usually have your operation and then your meniscus tear recovery will begin with 48 hours of rest. We recommend seeing a physiotherapist once or twice in the first couple of weeks after the operation. Before long, the swelling will start to go down, wounds will heal and, under the guidance of an experienced physiotherapist, you should be able to get back to doing everything you did before.
A sports therapist or strength conditioning coach could help you to get back to enjoying your favourite sports. Your meniscus tear recovery time should not last longer than a few weeks.
Lateral meniscus tear is often misdiagnosed, commonly as a sprained ligament, by patients, physiotherapists and GPs alike. This will mean you are not getting the appropriate treatment to start your recovery from a lateral meniscus tear. If you have a pain on the outside of your knee that does not go away, be suspicious. It is probably time to speak to a knee specialist.
Free phone consultation
If you think you may have a lateral meniscus tear – or any other knee injury – call Wimbledon Clinics for advice and specialist treatment.
We’ll take a look at your injury, make a specialist assessment and put together a clear strategy for your treatment and recovery. Our goal is to help you to get back to your best as soon as possible.
For a free phone consultation or to book an appointment, call Wimbledon Clinics now on 020 8629 1889 or visit www.wimbledonclinics.co.uk