Torn Meniscus | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is a torn meniscus diagnosed?

To diagnose a torn meniscus, your child’s orthopedic specialist will take a medical history and perform a physical exam on your child. The doctor will check for pain along the joint line, where the meniscus lies. He or she will conduct what’s called the McMurray Test, in which the knee is bent, then straightened and rotated. The tension on a torn meniscus from this manipulation will cause a clicking sound.

To confirm the diagnosis with detailed images of the injury, the doctor may also use:

What are the treatment options for a torn meniscus?

Initial self-aid for a torn meniscus usually involves rest, ice, compression and elevation, otherwise know as RICE, as well as medications to help control pain and swelling.

If your child's knee is stable and does not lock, the RICE formula, combined with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication, may be all that's needed to treat the torn meniscus. Blood vessels feed the outer edges of the meniscus, giving that part the potential to heal on its own. So, small tears on the outer edges often heal themselves with rest.

Additional measures to support this conservative approach to treatment can be:

  • crutches to take pressure off the knee
  • exercises to strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the knee
  • arch supports or other shoe inserts to redistribute weight while walking

Surgical repair

If your child's meniscus tear doesn't heal on its own and the knee becomes painful, stiff or locked, it may need surgical repair. The goal of meniscal surgery is to obtain a stable, smooth rim of meniscal tissue that doesn't rub abnormally on the cartilage surfaces of the knee. (Patients may still have an increased risk of arthritis in the knee after a meniscal tear, even if surgery is performed.)

Depending on the type of meniscal tear, whether your child also has an injured ACL, your child's age, general health and other variables, the surgeon may recommend surgery using an arthroscope to:

  • place sutures to repair the meniscus
  • use small instruments to trim off damaged pieces of meniscal cartilage

What is the long-term outlook for children with a torn meniscus?

The good news is that 98 percent of patients with simple meniscus tears are able to return to sports and regular activities without knee instability. After your child’s knee has healed, and after the strength and stability have returned through physical therapy, he or she should be able to return to previous sports and activities — usually within six months.

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