The Importance of Treating Meniscal Tears

You ask a lot of your knees. Simply walking on flat ground exerts a force equal to one-and-a-half times your body weight. For a 200-pound man, that's 300 pounds of pressure every single step. Going up and down stairs adds two to three times your body weight. And squatting to pick up something off the floor? Four to five times the amount of pressure, or the equivalent of 800-1,000 pounds for a 200-pound man. It's no wonder knee pain is such a common complaint.

The team at STAR Ortho takes the time to conduct a thorough physical exam to determine the root cause of your problem, employing additional diagnostic tools when necessary — X-rays, MRIs, blood tests, or removing and testing joint fluid. Once they make a diagnosis, they develop a personalized treatment plan with an emphasis on non-surgical methods. Surgery is only advised when less-invasive approaches are unsuccessful.

It can be tempting to just live with discomfort, but if your knee is painful, stiff, or swollen or if it catches, locks, or gives way unexpectedly, it’s important to seek treatment to prevent the risk of further injury and even premature osteoarthritis. This is especially true in the case of a meniscal tear.

What is a meniscal tear?

Three bones make up the knee: the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone), and patella (kneecap). The meniscus, a piece of tough rubbery cartilage that serves as a shock absorber, cushions the bones on each side and stabilizes the joint.

Meniscal tears are relatively common, especially as aging occurs. Twisting your knee while playing a sport, squatting too deep, and walking on an uneven surface can cause damage, as can degeneration like osteoarthritis.

Tears vary in appearance, location, and size depending on the injury. Often when they are sports-related, there is additional damage like an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear. Several common types of meniscal tears include the bucket handle tear, flap tear, radial tear, and degenerative tear.

How are they treated?

The treatment plan depends on a number of factors, including the type and size of the tear, any additional injuries, age, and activity level. A small tear on the outer edge of your meniscus often heals on its own due to its limited size and good blood supply in the area. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) is generally the recommended protocol. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also help with discomfort and reduce swelling.

If pain and other symptoms persist or if the tear is more interior without the nutrient-rich blood supply to aid in healing, surgery may become necessary. Knee arthroscopy uses a miniature camera and surgical instruments inserted through small incisions to repair the area.

Other options include a partial meniscectomy, in which damaged tissue is cut away, and a meniscus repair, in which the torn pieces are stitched back together. Recovery time varies depending on the procedure, from several weeks to several months, and typically includes physical therapy to strengthen your knee as it heals.


While surgery sounds scary, it is only performed when absolutely necessary. Also, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. Without treatment, a piece of the meniscus could come loose and move into the joint causing it to slip or pop in some cases. Additionally, continued knee pain can lead to less activity and mobility, which in turn could result in weight gain — and even more pressure on your joints.

Knee pain can have a significant impact on your health and quality of life, but you don't have to continue suffering. To make an appointment and start the road to recovery, call one of our STAR Ortho offices in Rancho Mirage or La Quinta, California, or click to book it online.


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