Meniscus Tears in Young Athletes Often Result of Sudden, Traumatic Injury

DAYTON, Ohio (Oct. 19, 2017) – A young athlete who experiences a meniscus tear may have to endure knee pain and weeks of recovery, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be completely relegated to the sidelines.

“A meniscus tear does not eliminate the possibility of sports participation for a young athlete,” said Michael Griesser, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Premier Orthopedics. “It can certainly represent a bit of a speed bump because it’s something that needs to be treated. Oftentimes athletes have to back out of athletic activity for some time to address it, but it usually doesn’t keep them from getting back into the game.”

The meniscus is a round piece of cartilage inside the knee that acts as a shock absorber between bones. There are two menisci in each person’s knee – the medial and the lateral – which also help with rotational forces in the knee and ensures cushioned landing when a person’s foot hits the ground.

The meniscus can be torn or injured in a variety of ways. Most commonly an impact or rotational injury to the knee is the culprit involving activities such as twisting or deep knee bending. Clicking, catching or locking of the knee are symptoms patients usually complain of when they have a meniscus tear. Their knee may also swell or have pain in the knee along the joint line.

Meniscus tears are actually more common among older adults or the elderly when an injury tears a meniscus that is already weakened from aging. In that case, adults may experience a tear that happens over time with the gradual representation of symptoms.

“It’s typically a different scenario with a young athlete,” said Dr. Griesser, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “We hear kids say, ‘My knee felt normal until I did this on the soccer field and now something isn’t right. It’s clicking, catching or popping.’ Or ‘I’ve got swelling and pain in the knee.’”

A meniscus tear is often found through a clinical exam. An original diagnosis may then be confirmed – in terms of how severe and in what location – through imaging the knee. Meniscus tears are treated first through conservative measures including rest, anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy.

A knee arthroscopy may then be discussed when those measures do not provide relief or healing. Arthroscopic surgery is when small instruments are used to go inside the knee and either trim out the torn portion of the meniscus or repair it.

Dr. Griesser said young athletes can do themselves a favor by taking steps to avoid getting a meniscus tear in the first place:

  • The type of sport you play – Be mindful that the type of sport you play may place you at a higher risk of getting a meniscus tear. Soccer, football and basketball are all sports that place a young person at risk for meniscus tears because they involve heavy landing, twisting and pivoting.
  • The focus you give to just one sport – Participation in one sport year-around means a young person is using the same muscles over and over. Consider cross-training throughout the year, despite the increased demands to constantly get better at one sport. 
  • The willingness you have to rest – Take time to rest from the game if you feel your knee is beginning to hurt. Avoid the temptation to push through the pain. 
  • The commitment you have to stay healthy – Understand what makes a good, healthy lifestyle for an active adolescent and then stick to it. Healthy food and adequate sleep will help the body better handle injuries and aid in the recovery process.

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