When an injury results in knee pain, it can be difficult to know how best to take care of the condition. If there is suspicion that the pain may be caused by a torn meniscus, questions arise. Will it heal by itself? Is it better to keep the knee moving, despite the pain? Can ice or over-the-counter topical creams aid the healing process?
Reflex Knee Specialists, located in Portland, OR; Bellevue, WA; and Tempe, AZ, offer diagnosis and non-surgical treatment options for a torn meniscus. Here, our medical providers discuss whether a torn meniscus can heal by itself.
What Is a Torn Meniscus?
The meniscus is a piece of fibro-cartilage that forms a cushion between the femur and the shin bone and its function is to dissipate load during weight-bearing activities. There are two menisci in each knee: one on the inside (medial meniscus) and another on the outside (lateral meniscus). When pressure is applied to the knee along with a twisting motion, the meniscus can tear. A common injury to the knee, a torn meniscus often occurs during athletic activity. However, this is not always the case, and degenerative changes that occur due to chronic inflammation or the process of aging can also lead to a torn meniscus.
The type of meniscal tear depends on the specifics of the injury event or how wear and tear have affected the joint. This condition can exhibit several symptoms in addition to pain, including:
- Difficulty bending or straightening the leg, or rotating the knee
- Knee feeling stuck or locked
- Popping sensations or sounds
Options for Treating a Torn Meniscus
Whether the torn meniscus can heal on its own depends on several factors, including what type of tear has resulted from the injury. These come in all shapes and sizes, and may also be complex. If the tear occurs in the outer area of the meniscus, it has a better chance of healing. This is because there is a better network of blood vessels supplying nutrients for regrowth on the outer parts of the meniscus. Tears to the inner aspect of the meniscus, where there is no blood supply, have little to no healing potential.
Several treatment options are available at Reflex Knee Specialists. A combination of these non-surgical treatments can aid the healing of a torn meniscus:
- Ice and rest
- Physical therapy
- Platelet-rich plasma
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Knee brace to offload the damaged meniscus
If the torn meniscus doesn’t respond to conservative treatments, or if the knee has persistent locking or mechanical dysfunction, surgical intervention may be required. In more than 90% of arthroscopic surgeries for meniscal tears, no repair is performed – the damaged tissue is simply removed. This results in less cushioning tissue between the bones which can accelerate damage to the underlying cartilage. People who undergo this procedure (called an arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or APM) are twice as likely to need a knee replacement in the future.
Platelet-rich plasma injections help reduce inflammation inside the joint, reduce pain, and stimulate proliferation of meniscal cells. This can result in an overall healthier joint environment and decrease the risk of further injury.
A regimen of physical therapy can greatly assist in maintaining overall physical condition and focuses on optimizing knee biomechanics and strengthening muscles that support knee stability. Multiple studies have shown no difference in outcomes for patients treated with physical therapy compared to those who have surgery for a torn meniscus.
Is the Injury a Torn Meniscus?
When deciding how to treat a torn meniscus, an important first step is receiving a valid diagnosis from a trained medical provider. A comprehensive knee evaluation includes gaining a thorough understanding of how the injury occurred and a physical examination, followed by imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or diagnostic knee ultrasound. The medical providers at Reflex Knee Specialists develop an accurate idea of the extent and type of injury and then prescribe a personalized treatment plan for each patient.
Torn Meniscus Treatments With Reflex Knee Specialists
Patients experiencing knee pain or those who have had a recent injury can turn to the experienced team at Reflex Knee Specialists for quality care. These medical providers use non-surgical, effective treatments to help patients with a torn meniscus and other knee conditions at offices in Portland, OR; Bellevue, WA; and Tempe, AZ. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 503-719-6783 or contact us today.