Each knee joint has two crescent shaped pieces of cartilage known as the menisci. They can be found on the inner (medial meniscus) and the outer (lateral meniscus) edges of the upper surface of the shinbone. They serve as shock absorbers for the knee and allow weight to be distributed properly between the shinbone (tibia) and the thighbone (femur).
If an injury occurs and cartilage is torn, the sports medicine experts at the FHCH Sports Medicine Program will employ a range of non-surgical and surgical solutions to repair the damage so you feel as good as new.
Torn Cartilage Causes
When athletes talk about having torn knee cartilage, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus. The tear can be caused by twisting, cutting, pivoting, decelerating or being tackled. Tears are categorized by how they look and where they occurred. Common tears include longitudinal, flap, bucket handle and mixed/complex. Often a meniscal tear happens along with other injuries to the knee such as an ACL tear.
Symptoms of an MCL/PCL Injury
The first indication of an MCL/PCL injury is the characteristic popping sound you hear as the meniscus tears. Most people can still walk on the injured knee and many athletes even continue to play. However, within 2 to 3 days, your knee will feel like it is getting more stiff and swollen. Without proper treatment, a piece of the meniscus may come loose and interfere with the joint, causing your knee to slip, pop or lock.
Other symptoms of a meniscal tear include:
- Stiffness and swelling
- Catching or locking of your knee
- The sensation that your knee is "giving way"
- You are not able to move your knee through its full range of motion
The course of treatment will depend largely on the type of the tear, its location and size.
If the tear is small and on the outside of the meniscus, it may net need surgery. As long as the symptoms are not persistent and your knee is stable, non-surgical treatments may be all that is needed.
The baseline treatment is the R.I.C.E. method:
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation
- Rest. Take a break from the activity that caused the injury. Your doctor may recommend that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on your knee.
- Ice. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- Compression. To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
- Elevation. To reduce swelling, recline when you rest, and put your leg up higher than your heart.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling.
Learn about Torn Cartilage surgery.
If you have questions about torn cartilage injuries or want to make an appointment with us, please contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators and they'll be happy to help you.