Don’t be Sidelined by Knee Pain
Meniscus Tears in Athletes
By Dr. Michael E. Pomykala, PT, DPT, CSCS
What is a meniscus injury?
The meniscus is a cartilage disc that cushions your knee. Each of your knees has 2 menisci that together absorb shock and stabilize the knee joint. Unfortunately, these essential structures are vulnerable to injury, the most common being meniscal tears. Meniscal tears affect both athletes and non-athletes. If a meniscus injury is left untreated, knee range of motion can be affected. Eventually, poor range of motion in the knee can cause other problems—in the hips, feet, ankles or lower back.
In young athletes, most injuries to the meniscus are a result of trauma. The menisci are vulnerable to injuries in which there is both compression and twisting across the knee. Meniscus tears are common in contact sports, like football, soccer and basketball as well as in baseball, hockey and volleyball. It is also common for the meniscus to be injured in conjunction with other knee injuries, including tears of the ACL.
Although meniscus injuries cannot be prevented outright, strategies can be employed to reduce their occurrence and severity. To provide additional support and protection against the stresses of competition, it’s best to strengthen the muscles around the knee. It’s also important to strengthen the core, hip, and ankle muscles, and to ensure that the muscles are firing efficiently. This will help the athlete with load transfers during quicker movements.
Weak core, hip, and ankle muscles may be unable to slow the body down during athletic movements, leaving the knees and other joints to bear the brunt of forces they’re not designed to handle. At Scerbo Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation our Physical Therapists and Performance Enhancement Training Specialists will work on developing an individual treatment plan according to your unique athletic sport needs.
Types of Meniscal Tears
Meniscal tears are considered “acute” when they happen as a result of a particular movement, and “degenerative” if they happen over time. Acute meniscus tears often happen during sports. Sports-related meniscus tears may occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscus tears, when just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear. Your treatment will depend on the type of tear and a number of other factors.
Common types of tears in athletes include:
- Intrasubstance/Incomplete Tear: By the time people are in their 20s or 30s, intrasubstance changes of the meniscus tissue are very commonly seen on an MRI. They generally do not require surgical treatment.
- Radial Tear: Radial tears are the most common type of meniscus tear. Typically, the only option is to surgically trim out the damaged portion of the meniscus.
- Horizontal Tear: A horizontal tear is a tear that is most commonly amenable to meniscus repair because it may be able to be sewn together.
- Flap Tear: A flap tear of the meniscus is an unusual pattern of tear. If the flap is causing symptoms, it can be surgically removed.
- Complex Tear: Because of the complexity of this type of tear, usually it is not treated with meniscus repair.
- Bucket-Handle Tear: A bucket-handle tear is a large type of horizontal tear of the meniscus that may block normal knee motion. Bucket-handle tears often require more urgent surgical treatment.
Getting Back to Your Game
Your physical therapist at Scerbo Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation can help control pain and swelling and work with you to restore full strength and mobility to your knee. If your symptoms do not persist and your knee is stable after physical therapy, nonsurgical treatment may be all you need.
At Scerbo P.T., we specialize in the treatment of all knee injuries, ranging from the most common to the more complex. Whether or not you need surgery, our Doctors in physical therapy can help you with your meniscal tear and restore strength and movement to help you “March forward” into spring.
Muscle and joint flexibility programs are available to improve your active range of motion and help prevent re-injury. Additionally, our Performance Enhancement Training Specialist will progress your rehabilitation from stationary strengthening to your playing field. Ask us how Performance Enhancement Training may help you prevent injury before it ever happens.
Call us today, (201) 941-2240, or visit our convenient location at 725 River Road, Suite 60, Edgewater, New Jersey.