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Meniscus Tears Q&A Interview with Dr. Van Thiel

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Meniscus tears are the most common injury in orthopedics. Any physical activity where the knee twists, there is sudden stopping, or a fall, can result in a meniscus tear.

What is the meniscus and what does it do?

There are actually two menisci in the knee, one on the outside of the knee (lateral) and one on the inside (medial). The meniscus functions as a cushion in the knee to help protect the joint surfaces and provide stability along with the ligaments.

What causes a meniscus tear?

Many things can cause a tear of the meniscus. An injury such as twisting the knee, deep squatting or a fall can lead to a meniscus tear. However, repetitive daily use and activity can lead to a meniscus tear even without a specific injury.

Can age-related degenerative changes cause a meniscus tear?

Yes, daily activity can cause wear and tear, and over time can lead to degenerative tears of the meniscus. Some of these tears may cause problems, whereas other tears we may not even know that we have because there is no pain or problems.

What other injuries can accompany a meniscus tear?

Meniscus tears can happen in isolation, but are also very common with any ligament injury. It is important to treat all of the injuries in order to maintain a healthy knee into the future.

What is the effect of a meniscus tear on the body?

A meniscus tear can lead to pain, swelling and ultimately decreased function in the knee. This can affect a patient’s ability to be active and even to complete normal daily activities. A meniscus tear can also cause an increase in pressure in the knee and may lead to future cartilage problems if it is not addressed appropriately.

How does a meniscus tear affect a patient’s quality of life?

Meniscus tears lead to pain, clicking and locking of the knee. We have found that patient’s with these symptoms are less likely to engage in active pursuits and healthy living. They will actually limit their daily activities and avoid events that may aggravate the knee. These are big deals to patients and can significantly impact their quality of life.

What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?

Symptoms of a meniscus tear include pain on the inside or outside of the joint, clicking, locking, or sharp pain with pivoting on the knee. There can also be swelling and decreased movement in the knee.

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

Dr. Van Thiel diagnoses a meniscus tear by physical examination followed by an MRI. X-rays can be helpful to rule out other problems related to the bones. But, they do not show the soft tissue.

Can a meniscus tear heal on its own?

A meniscus tear cannot heal on its own. Once it tears, that tear will remain. However, a tear can go from being painful to relatively non-painful. If a small tear is not causing problems and the patient is pain free, there is no reason to treat it. That being said, symptoms of a meniscus tear can come and go. Sometimes the tear may be irritated or reinjured and cause pain, whereas other times it may be fine. These recurring episodes of pain often lead patients to seek treatment.

When and what type of surgery would be necessary to repair the meniscus tear?

There are two main treatments for a meniscus tear, either cut out the torn part or repair the torn part. Learn more about meniscus transplants. As we learn more and more about the importance of the meniscus in preventing joint damage, repair techniques continue to expand. Dr. Van Thiel believes in “saving” or preserving the meniscus whenever possible. This helps keep the knee healthy and working well without pain into the future. Even though we do everything we can to save and repair the meniscus, unfortunately some tears are not repairable and the torn part must be removed. Regardless, meniscus surgery has a very high rate of success in decreasing pain and getting patients back to an active lifestyle.

Dr. Van Thiel treats patients from all over Wisconsin and Illinois including Rockford, Elgin, Huntley, Dekalb, Crystal Lake, Barrington, McHenry, and Beloit.

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