One of the more common knee injuries is called a meniscus tear which can lead to knee pain, swelling, and your knee not working right. If you play a lot of contact sports, you may have heard of meniscus tears among other athletes. However, you can also tear a meniscus if you are lifting heavy objects. The risk of tearing a meniscus increases as you age, too. If you have twisted your knee and feel a lot of pain and discomfort afterward, your doctor may want to schedule you for a type of diagnostic imaging called an MRI to look at the knee up close and determine if there is a tear.
What Is a Meniscus Tear?
This type of common knee injury involves a rubbery disc that separates and supports your shinbone and thighbone. If you turn or twist your knee too suddenly, this rubbery disc called a meniscus can tear, which weakens the separation and support your knee usually provides between those two leg bones. Your knees play such a huge role in keeping you mobile and also in helping to manage and balance your weight, so when you experience an injury in your knee it can really affect your daily life.
How Do I Know I Have a Torn Meniscus?
Sometimes a torn meniscus can occur and you may not even notice it at first, which doctors may refer to as more of a mild tear. When you experience a mild tear of the meniscus you might notice a slight pain when it happens but really start to notice something is wrong when you’ve had a chance to rest from your activity and start to notice any pain or swelling around your knee. Even in mild cases, though, the slight pain may linger for a few weeks until the knee heals.
In more moderate to severe cases, it could be quite obvious to you that you have injured your knee because of how much pain you are in. In moderate cases of a torn meniscus, you may even notice that the swelling gets worse the first few days after the injury and you might feel uncomfortable when you try to bend or straighten your knee. Severe cases are rarer but not unheard of, and when this happens you may not even be able to bend your knee and may have a lot of difficulty walking.
When Should I See a doctor?
If you injure your knee and suspect a torn meniscus, you may want to visit your doctor to confirm and find out what more you can do to help ease the pain. In general, it can be helpful to see your doctor any time an injury is preventing you from going about your daily activities without feeling a lot of pain and discomfort. Swelling can also be a concern and a reason for going to the doctor, especially if you notice the swelling is getting worse instead of better. It is especially important to call your doctor if you are experiencing trouble walking, bending, or straightening your knee after the injury because of the pain. Your doctor will likely want to run a series of diagnostic imaging tests, such as an MRI, to get a clear picture of what is going on inside your knee in order to provide you with the most effective treatment options.
What Will an MRI Show My Doctor?
When your doctor requests an MRI, this is a type of diagnostic imaging test that will take pictures of your knee to give them more information on what is going on with your bones, muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues. An MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging and it is a scan that uses a series of magnets and radio waves to see details of what is going on inside your body.
Unlike an X-ray or a CT scan, an MRI doesn’t use any radiation either. Also unlike X-rays, an MRI shows more than just bones and that is why it is particularly helpful for a meniscus tear, since the meniscus is cartilage and doesn’t show up in an X-ray. In an MRI, however, your doctor can even see where the tear occurred on the meniscus and how any swelling may be impacting other parts of your knee.
What Happens After an MRI?
After your MRI, your doctor will review the images made during the scan and use these to determine a diagnosis and start a treatment plan for you. Depending on whether your meniscus tear is mild, moderate, or severe, your doctor will recommend different treatments to help ease the pain while you heal. Your doctor may also talk with you about ways to prevent meniscus tears in the future, especially if you want to continue participating in sports and other activities.