Pop Goes the Knee? It’s Likely a Meniscus Tear
Many times you will hear one of the most common injuries among athletes when it occurs
It’s a dreaded sound for basketball and football players – a popping noise and then ensuing knee pain. Many times its meniscus cartilage tearing that’s making that pop.
The meniscal cartilage consists of two wedge-shape disks behind the knee that act as shock absorbers between the two large bones of the leg. Sometimes a quick or awkward pivot along with an immediate start or stop is all it takes to tear the cartilage.
“It’s certainly common among athletes,” says orthopedic surgeon Peter Spohn, MD, with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “It can also happen doing something as simple as shoveling snow by flexing and twisting the knee awkwardly.”
Meniscus is torn; what’s next?
An X-ray and most likely a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan are needed to make a conclusive diagnosis. “Time can matter for traumatic meniscal tears if they are repairable,” says family physician Chelsea Evans, DO, of LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “It’s important for primary care physicians to refer patients with suspected traumatic tear to an orthopedist for a potential repair or resection.”
Meniscus surgical options
- Resection: Remove torn cartilage
- Repair: Cartilage is pulled together
- Transplant: Option if resection on repair isn’t successful
Recovery: Most people require months of rehab following resection, repair or transplant.
“Resection makes up about 75-85 percent of surgical procedures,” Das says. “The goal is to leave as much meniscal tissue as possible to act as that shock absorber.”
Lesser tears, particularly those along the lateral – or outer – layers of the meniscus where there is greater blood supply, are often treated with rest, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy until the area heals on its own.
“We’ll see more of that with older patients with degenerative conditions, or patients who may have other conditions that make surgery difficult,” says physical therapist Linda Banos of LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine–Mountain Top.
Rehab after surgery
How quickly one bounces back from a surgical resection of the meniscus depends on the injury.
“Recovery time can vary, but it often depends on where the cartilage tore,” Spohn says. “People can recover quickly from medial tears. Lateral teams impact stability more, and they require more recovery time generally.”