A visually simple yet mechanically complex joint, the knee structure provides stability, cushioning, and strength. For athletes to be the best they can be, all of these structures need to be working in concert – including the highly misunderstood meniscus (cartilage).
Even though a torn meniscus does not get the attention that the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) does, it's still an injury that can affect the stability of the knee, as well as an athlete's performance.
The meniscus is a tough tissue comprised of two separate parts that attach to the top of the tibia (lower leg bone). Similar to the idea of triangle used to hold a door open – thin on the inside, deep on the outside – the meniscus resembles a "C" on the inside half and an "O" on the outside half. This structure helps to keep the femur (upper leg bone) where it should be on the tibia throughout the movement of the knee. It also provides the knee with cushioning.
Most meniscus injuries are caused by a rotation/twisting of the knee when the foot is in a planted position. Injuries can also occur over time if one or more of the ligament structures have been damaged. A meniscus injury can cause a decrease in the stability of the knee, as well as allowing for more "play" between the femur and tibia.
Meniscus injuries can be frustrating given that the symptoms can vary from person to person, day to day, and can come and go. The diagnosis is made from the symptoms reported, clinical evaluation and use of an MRI. Treatment plans range from rehabilitation – to increase the strength of the muscles that surround and support the knee – to arthroscopy (i.e., surgery through very small incisions) for removal of the damaged area with the goal to leave as much of the meniscus as possible to help stabilize the knee and provide cushioning between the bones.
For optimum performance in any activity, it's important to pay attention to all of the structures within your knee. If you are experiencing persistent knee pain/soreness, chronic swelling or episodes of locking or hesitation when bending or extending the knee, a meniscus injury could be the culprit – see a healthcare professional for evaluation.
For additional questions on the meniscus, other sports medicine topics or to schedule a FREE Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.