What's a Meniscus?
A meniscus is a fibrocartilaginous tissue that is located only in certain parts of the human body. There are menisci (more than one meniscus) in each knee, but there are also menisci in other joints:
● in the wrist,
● in the shoulder at the joint between your shoulder blade and collar bone,
● at the breastbone where it connects with the collar bone, and
● at the temperomandibular joint (commonly known as the "TMJ") between the skull and the lower jaw bone, in front of the ear.
Hey, I'm Important!
The menisci help to:
◊ absorb "shock" and "load" stresses on the body while bearing weight
◊ prevent irritation that comes from friction (the force that resists the motion of surfaces sliding or rubbing against each other)
◊ protect the articular cartilage that covers the ends of the bones, acting as an extra level of protection
◊ lubricate and provide nutrition to the joint, especially in the knee
◊ add shape to the joint surfaces so they interact with each other better and improve the joint's stability (i.e. the thigh bone is rounded at the knee while the leg bone is flatter at the knee—the meniscus has a concave curved top edge here to help fill the shape gap);
The menisci of the knee tear in so many different ways.Some tears may heal on their own (especially on the outer third of the meniscus where the blood supply is greatest), but more are likely to remain a problem unless addressed by your doctor. As Dr. Jazrawi said, the nature of the tear, including its size, shape, and location, can all affect the healing process.
"Uh-Oh: My Knee Locked Up"
In some cases a piece of the meniscus may tear off completely or partially from its attachment site on the tibia bone or from the main body of the meniscus and then float around in the knee. This "loose body" or "floating body" can cause the knee, at times, to catch or lock in position, forcing you to shake your knee to release the locking effect (which frees the deviant fragment previously stuck between the bones). If it keeps happening, it is more than likely that arthroscopic surgery will be required to remove or repair the offending piece.
Blood Actually Helps
The interesting part about the meniscus is that it has less blood supply as you move toward the center of the knee. Without proper blood supply, healing cannot take place since the blood vessels bring in the cells that remove the damaged tissue and repair the injured tissue. This is why many meniscus tears require some type of surgery for successful repair.
Back to "Normal"
Unfortunately, while surgery is important for recovery, not all surgeries are able to bring you back to a "pre-injury state" (with a meniscus that looks and acts the same as it did before). Surgeons often have to remove part of the meniscus, repair, or replace it. Other times the meniscus damage has exposed the articular cartilage (on the joint surfaces) to injury and the surgeon has to repair the cartilage. In the end, the knee is not as protected as it once was. That's why performing exercises that assist the meniscus in absorbing forces can help:
► Strengthening exercises - to teach the muscles to protect the knee by helping to absorb weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing forces placed upon it and by assisting to control the potentially unstable joint; start with exercises that don't put a lot of weight on the knee, at least at the angle where the repaired meniscus would suffer stress
► stretching exercises - to limit the effect of muscles that tighten to guard a knee that is no longer the perfect knee that it once was
► balance exercises - to train the nerves and muscles to respond better in all positions to protect the knee*
* As your exercise program progresses, coordination and agility exercises will help here as well.
Will I Get Arthritis?
Arthritis*, the official medical term is osteoarthritis (OA), of the knee is an irritation of the joint surfaces, where protective tissues like the meniscus and articular cartilage have broken down or worn away, leading to:
■ bone irritation/wear,
■ bone enlargement, and/or
■ irregular bone deposits.
* Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe a group of more than 100 medical conditions that may cause pain, stiffness, inflammation, and damage to the joints and their surrounding tissues. Some forms of arthritis are classified as "systemic", which means that they can cause damage to tissues throughout the body, including the organs. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.
Some people are genetically predisposed to arthritis:
■ they have a family history (where their relatives have had it);
■ they have metabolic/chemical issues that encourage it; or
■ they demonstrate development/growth patterns that increase stress on joints in unintended ways.
But it can also happen with wear and tear over time, for example:
■ after injuries to a joint (like a torn meniscus or ACL),
■ from stresses due to bad biomechanics (i.e. leg weakness or poor alignment with landing), or
■ as a consequence of other diseases or disorders (i.e. those that cause excess bone growth in the joints, abnormal bone alignment, or poor circulation to the bone).
In fact, osteoarthritis can also happen in the inactive person because joints that don't move enough may not get enough of the lubrication and nutrition necessary to maintain joint health.
Meniscus Treatment Options* CLICK HERE >>
Articular Cartilage Treatment Options* CLICK HERE >>
* Different treatment approaches or surgical techniques may be more appropriate for certain types of injuries.Other treatment options may be available.Please discuss your condition with your doctor.
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