A meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries, and a severe tear may require surgery and take weeks or months to heal. If you’re a runner, the idea of not being able to enjoy your favorite exercise for such an extended period can be a nightmare.
At all locations of Orthocenter, our skilled providers help athletes avoid getting hurt and recover from sports injuries if they happen. We help athletes of all ages who participate in all kinds of activities, and meniscus tears are common in many different sports — including running.
Your knee is an amazing joint. Two large bones meet in your knee, your femur or thigh bone, and your tibia, or shin bone. Considering how many times per day you bend your knees, you get an inkling of what a strong and active joint it is.
Your kneecap, or patella, provides some protection for the joint, and two thick, wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage provide shock absorption and prevent the bones from rubbing against each other — those are called menisci. In addition to helping cushion your joint, the menisci also help keep your knee joint stable.
Imagine that you’re running, and someone behind you calls your name. You likely stop quickly, then pivot to look back and see who called you. The menisci prevent your bones from slamming into each other when you stop and allow you the stability to pivot quickly.
Tearing your meniscus
Sadly, over time, the fibrous cartilage that makes up your menisci becomes dryer, less flexible, and more prone to injury. In fact, depending on your age and the condition of your meniscus, you could endure a tear while standing awkwardly from a chair or turning slightly while walking. This is one of the reasons it’s such a common injury.
When a meniscus tear happens, you’ll likely have pain, swelling, and problems straightening or bending your knee. You may experience a popping sensation when the injury happens, and if a piece of the cartilage tears completely away it can get stuck in the joint, effectively locking your leg into position.
It may not hurt that much at first, and you may even think you can finish your run without worries. However, it’s likely to hurt more later once the injury becomes inflamed.
The best treatment for a meniscus tear depends on how severe the tear is, as well as where it is. If it’s a relatively minor tear near the outer edge of the cartilage where you have a rich blood supply, you may need to simply rest, apply ice, and give it time to heal.
A more severe tear, or a tear on the inner part of the meniscus where there’s no blood flow, is likely to require surgery. Your provider assesses your injury and suggests treatment options based on your individual injury.
Preventing a meniscus tear
You can’t do anything to guarantee you won’t eventually have a meniscus tear, but there are some things you can do to make it less likely.
Along with your regular runs, be sure to do some strength training, particularly for your core and legs. When the muscles and tendons that support your knee are strong, there’s less pressure on your meniscus.
Dynamic stretching is especially important. It allows you to activate the muscles that protect your knees, warms your body up prior to exercise, and lowers your risk of injury, including meniscus tears.
Notice your knees
Athletes aren’t always great at paying attention to their bodies. We are often trained to push through pain, but it’s not a good idea, especially once you get a bit older. If you’re tired or feeling pain, reconsider whether a run will be the right activity for that day.
Finally, if you have concerns about sports injuries, including meniscus tears, make an appointment at the location of Orthocenter most convenient for you, and talk to an expert! We’re always happy to help you keep moving.