The game of basketball is fun to watch because the players are very flexible, they sprint, jump, swerve, and make some amazing dunks to score points. Sometimes it seems like they are superhuman and can do anything without hurting themselves. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. One wrong move can sometimes cost them a few weeks off the court and in other cases, a lot longer than that. The same can happen to you and one common issue among sports enthusiasts (whether professional or not), is a torn meniscus. That’s what we are going to focus on today. More specifically, what happens if you leave a torn meniscus untreated.
A Brief Intro on Knee Joints
You can skip this part if you already know what a meniscus is. This section is mainly for people who aren’t quite sure what the knee joint is all about. For one, it’s a lot more complex that you might think. The knee is the largest joint in the body and is prone to injuries all the time. It’s made up of four primary components:
- Bones – There are 3 bones that meet at the joint, and they are kneecap, thighbone, and shinbone.
- Cartilage – The end of the tibia and femur, and the backside of the patella are covered with cartilage. What is cartilage exactly? It’s basically a slippery substance that helps your bones glide smoothly over each other, which is especially useful when you bend your knees.
- Meniscus – It acts like a shock absorber for your knees and it’s located just between the tibia and femur. Also considered cartilage, it’s rubbery and tough and helps to cushion the joints. Often, when people talk about “torn cartilage” in their knees, they are talking about the meniscus.
- Ligaments – All the bones in our body are joined with ligaments. In the case of your knee, think of them as strong ropes that hold the bones together to keep the knee stable. The knee ligaments consist of:
- Tendons – Your muscles are connected with bones by tendons. This connects the part of your thigh with the patella. From there to the end of the shinbone is known as the patellar tendon.
- Collateral ligaments – Collateral ligaments are found at the side of your knees. The medial part (MCL) is on the inside of your knee, and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) is situated at the outside. These control the sideways motion of your knees.
- Cruciate ligaments – Cruciate ligaments cross each other in an X’ form and control the back and forth motion of your knees.
Symptoms Of a Meniscus Tear
As we mentioned above, a torn meniscus can be a fairly common occurrence among athletes, mainly for those who do activities/sports that have a lot of position changes, twisting and squatting. Here are a few common things that occur when a meniscus tears:
- At first you will feel a pop in the knee joint.
- Soon after, you will start to feel pain in the knee joint, which gets worse the more pressure you put on it.
- The painful sensation stays.
- Stiffness and swelling will start to develop.
- You may have a feeling that your knee is catching or locking whenever you try to bend it.
- You should be able to walk or stand if you have the injury but it will depend on the level of tear you have.
What Happens If You Leave A Torn Meniscus Untreated?
Unfortunately, many athletes think they can go months without treating a torn meniscus, thinking that it will just heal on its own. Or they just never get it treated at all. Yes, it’s true that some minor meniscus tears can heal on their own, however in most cases, some form of treatment is needed or else things can get worse. Here are some things that can develop if you leave your torn meniscus untreated:
- Pieces of your meniscus can become loose and enter your knee joint, possibly causing excrutiating pain later on or limiting your range of motion.
- Pain, swelling and inflammation can increase over time.
- The actual tear can increase in size over time and lead to other issues such as arthritis.
- In some cases, knee surgery may be needed in the future to restore full knee function, if it is left untreated too long.
If the damage is with the outer one-third of the meniscus, sometimes it can heal on its own or by a small surgery, otherwise, if the tear is at the inner two-thirds, it’s possible that it will hinder the flow of blood and cell regeneration in your meniscus. Don’t take a chance. If you suspect that you have a torn meniscus or other injury to your knee, visit a doctor as soon as possible and get it properly diagnosed.
How To Treat a Meniscus Tear
Keep in mind that only a qualified medical practitioner (who has diagnosed your particular situation) should map out a treatment plan for you. However, here are some general tips that can help:
- Anti-inflammatories – Take them if the pain becomes too much to handle, but be sure to follow the recommended guidelines on the packaging.
- R.I.C.E. – Rest, ice, compression and elevation are extremely beneficial in getting the swelling and inflammation down. Read our related article on why ice therapy is extremely important – The Importance of Knee Cold Compression. If you are looking for a product that offers the ice and compression features in one kit, look no further:
- Physiotherapy – For minor tears, a qualified physiotherapist should have all the exercise equipment, therapy devices and skills to help you recover from a tear. Many people tend to give up on physiotherapy before they complete all their sessions. Please don’t be that person. Have a look at our article “5 Reasons Why You Should Never Give Up on Physiotherapy” to learn why it’s important.
- Surgery – Generally reserved for medium to serious meniscus tears that have no chance of healing on their own. In this case, the torn part is either repaired, replaced or removed and the process is normally accomplished arthroscopically (i.e.: entering a small camera inside the small incision made on the knee, and from there the surgeon removes or repairs the area using small surgery equipment.)
In the end, why take a chance with one of the most important joints? If you have any sort of knee pain, get it checked out as soon as possible. Even if you are not a professional player, you should never ignore a torn meniscus or any other knee problem. If you have any experience dealing with a torn meniscus, we’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below!
Disclaimer/Reminder – We’re not medical practitioners here at CAHS, we simply post information researched by others (such as “What Happens If You Leave A Torn Meniscus Untreated?” above”, that we think could be useful for you. Always seek a doctor’s assistance for anything pain-related.