When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they’re usually speaking about a torn meniscus. A common sports injury it tends to occur when the flexed knee is twisted. The meniscus is a rubbery disc that stabilizes the knee joint.
“I think that our understanding of the knee by mechanics has taught us that the meniscus is very important in protecting the knee from developing arthritis from abnormal load,” says Dr. John Kagan, orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System medical staff.
By distributing stress evenly, the meniscus limits cartilage surface damage, which is the beginning of arthritis. A tear larger than one centimeter generally doesn’t heal on its own. When it causes movement problems or pain, is when people visit their doctor.
“Sometimes we’re able to repair the meniscus, sometimes we just take out that little torn segment. But if we don’t do that over time, that little torn segment becomes larger and larger until it effects so much of the meniscus that the meniscus loses it’s ability to actually protect your joint. And those are the people who develop arthritis,” says Dr. Kagan.
There are several ways to mend a torn meniscus. By removing the frayed tissue or repairing the tear. How or whether it needs treatment depends on size, location, patient age and activity level. If it causes discomfort it’s best to open up a conversation.
“A lot of patients that I see in the office that have a large tear of the meniscus, they don’t even know how they did it. Maybe this injury happen 10 or 20 years ago and they never got any treatment. At the point they come in they may have a very significant problem, when early it could have been taken care of easily,” says Dr. Kagan.