Injury to one or both of the two crescent-shaped cartilage-like pads in the knee is known as a meniscus tear. The knee joint is formed by the femur (the thigh bone) and the tibia (the shin bone). While this is a good joint on its own, the medial and lateral meniscus help to create a deeper and more stable joint. They actually move a bit with thigh bone when it bends and straightens. Unfortunately, this makes the meniscus very prone to being torn. A tear of a meniscus may occur when a person quickly twists or rotates the upper leg while the foot stays still (for example, when dribbling a basketball around an opponent or turning to hit a tennis ball). After any injury the knee may click, lock, or feel weak (like it gives way). There are many types of tears of the meniscus bucket handle, flap, and degenerative to name a few and they have different treatment options and preferences.
Surgery is often recommended for a meniscus tear. For degenerative tears, recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that for a medial meniscus degenerative tear (the most common type), a fake surgery and a real surgery led to the same outcomes for the patient! Another study compared physical therapy rehabilitation to surgery, and they found that the patients had the same results as well. The only thing in this study was that 30% of the patients who originally didn’t do surgery, ended up having surgery. What does this all mean: surgery can be effective for a variety of meniscus tears and conditions, but rehab can be just as effective. Patients with a suspected or known meniscus tear should absolutely consider physical therapy as their first choice of treatment.