Knee pain can affect a large range of age groups, ranging from ‘growing’ pains experienced by young people to ‘arthritic’ pain in older persons, and everything in-between. In this Blog we will examine knee meniscus injuries, what causes them and how to treat these injuries.
What is the Meniscus of the Knee?
The meniscus are C-shaped structures in your knee joint which sit between your femur (or thigh bone) and your tibia (or shin bone). They are made of a type of cartilage called fibrocartilage, which is a little bit different to other form of cartilage in your knee called articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is often more affected with arthritis. Your knee has two menisci, the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus. The medial meniscus is located on the inside while the lateral meniscus is on the outside of your knee.
The menisci have a limited blood supply which rely on movement of the knee to keep it strong and healthy. The best thing you can do to prevent your meniscus from injury, is to keep active and keep the knee moving.
What does the Meniscus do?
The main role of the menisci is to help with absorbing and distributing forces through the knee joint. They work together with knee and hip muscles to act as a shock absorber when the knee is active. The menisci also increases the surface area of the knee joint, so it adds some extra stability to the knee.
How do you injure your meniscus?
The majority of meniscus injuries occur as people age (over 50 years). As you get older the limited blood supply to the meniscus becomes further reduced. As people age they develop wrinkles and grey hair. The aging process also occurs in the knee, the menisci begin to degenerate, lose some of their strength and become more prone to injury.
As the menisci become more susceptible to injury with age, the range and types of movements which can damage it become more prevalent. The majority of meniscus injuries occur when you twist your knee over a planted foot. – Sometimes it can be as simple, as turning to look over your shoulder or stepping off a ladder and putting weight on your foot and twisting your knee. You might notice the knee to slowly swell up.
Meniscus injuries in the younger ager group (under 30) are not as prevalent. Simple twisting movements to the knee are unlikely to cause menisci injury in younger persons. You are more likely to see menisci injuries occur with other knee injuries such as ligament damage caused through sport.
What should I do if I damage my meniscus?
So you have injured your knee and you are thinking, what to do next? Alternatively, you have had a scan on your knee and been diagnosed with a meniscus tear and wanting to know what is the best way to treat it?
A 2002 study involving people who had ‘degenerative’ menisci tears, compared the rehabilitation recovery rates of three groups. The first group had meniscus removal surgery (i.e. arthroscopic meniscectomy), the second experienced joint ‘wash-out’ (lavage) and third underwent ‘placebo’ surgery where the surgeon made skin incisions only. All groups undertook the same rehabilitation program. Amazingly they found no difference in between the 3 groups. All groups had the same levels of pain and function, and all improved at the same rate.
Since the initial 2002 study, further published studies have compared meniscus surgery with placebo surgery and physiotherapy treatment. These studies continue to confirm the same result, that is, there is no differences between all of the groups in terms of rehabilitation other than the surgery group having a higher cost of treatment!
The treatment for meniscus tears in the active, younger population (under 30) is more complex with some individuals needing surgery as soon as possible, while others can manage with physiotherapy and exercise.
What does this all mean?
Degenerative meniscus tears are more common as people age. In some cases people who not have any knee pain may have degenerative menisci and not be in any pain. In other words having a degenerative meniscus correlates poorly pain. The good news is, you might not need to have surgery at all if you are able to undertake a comprehensive physiotherapy rehabilitation program.
Will surgery provide you any benefits? Yes it will in the short term. However, arthroscopic meniscus surgery is associated with a ten-fold increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis.
Although most degenerative meniscus tears don’t need surgery, there are always some cases where surgery is going to be more effective than physiotherapy. Some menisci tears can either ‘stick-up’ into the joint or ‘break-off.’ In cases like these the tear can cause the knee to lock when trying to bend or straighten, and surgery is recommended to remove the tear.
What will my physiotherapist work on during my rehabilitation?
The first thing your physiotherapist will undertake is a full assessment of not only your knee, but your legs and even your back to see if you pain is coming from your meniscus or from somewhere else.
If you have hurt your meniscus recently your physiotherapist will start treatment aiming to reduce the swelling and begin to return it to its full range of movement.
If you have full range of movement and no swelling in your knee joint your physiotherapist will begin an exercise program focused on strengthening the muscles around your knee, and from around your hip. Weak quadriceps muscle has been found to place a greater load on your knee joint and your meniscus. Strengthening these muscle groups can reduce the pressure on the meniscus during movement. Weakness in your bottom (gluteal) muscles can also affect your knee function. Weakness in the gluteal muscles is known to place more load through the inside of the knee, which is where the majority of medial injuries occur. Strengthening the quadriceps and gluteal muscles will contribute to reducing the pressure on the knee.
Degenerative meniscus tears areas common as wrinkles and grey hair as you grow older. Although surgery is sometimes required for some knee injuries it often is not the only or best option in most cases. For most knee injuries involving the menisci the best anti-aging medicine is physical activity and exercise.
Physical Therapist’s Guide to Knee Pain
Knee pain can be caused by disease or injury. The most common disease affecting the knee is osteoarthritis. Knee injuries can occur as the result of a direct blow or sudden movement that strains the knee beyond its normal range of movement. Knee pain caused by an injury is most often associated with knee cartilage tears, such as meniscal tears, or ligament tears, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.
What is Knee Pain?
Knee pain can be caused by disease or injury. Knee pain can restrict movement, affect muscle control in the sore leg, and reduce the strength and endurance of the muscles that support the knee.
The most common disease affecting the knee is osteoarthritis, which is caused by the cartilage in the knee gradually wearing away, resulting in pain and swelling.
Knee injuries can occur as the result of a direct blow or sudden movement that strains the knee beyond its normal range of motion, as can happen in sports, recreational activities, a fall, or a motor vehicle accident. Knee pain caused by an injury often is associated with tears in the knee cartilage or ligaments. Knee pain also can be the result of repeated stress, as often occurs with the kneecap, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. Very rarely, with extreme trauma, a bone may break at the knee.
How Does it Feel?
You may feel knee pain in different parts of your knee joint, depending on the problem affecting you. Identifying the location of your pain can help your physical therapist determine its cause.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your physical therapist will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, medical history, and a thorough examination. X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results may also be used to complete the diagnosis.
To help diagnose your condition, your physical therapist may ask you questions like these:
•Where exactly on your knee is the pain?
•Did you twist your knee?
•Did you feel a “tearing” sensation at the time of injury?
•Do you notice swelling?
•Have you ever felt like your knee joint is “catching,” or “locking,” or will give way?
•Do you have difficulty walking up and down stairs?
•Do you have difficulty sitting with your knee bent for long periods, as on an airplane or at the movies?
•Does your pain increase when you straighten or bend your knee?
•Does your knee hurt if you have to twist or turn quickly?
The physical therapist will perform tests to find out whether you have:
•Pain or discomfort with bending or straightening your knee
•Tenderness at the knee joint
•Limited motion in your knee
•Weakness in the muscles around your knee
•Difficulty putting weight on your knee when standing or walking
The physical therapist also is concerned about how well you are able to use your injured knee in daily life. To assess this, the therapist may use such tests as a single-limb hop test, a 6-minute walk test, or a timed up and go test.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Based on the evaluation, your physical therapist will develop a customized rehabilitation program, including a specific set of knee exercises, for you.
If you already have knee problems, your physical therapist can help with a plan of exercise that will strengthen your knee without increasing the risk of injury or further damage. As a general rule, you should choose gentle exercises such as swimming, aquatic exercise, or walking rather than jarring exercises such as jogging or high-impact aerobics.
Consult your physical therapist about specific ways to maintain your knee health following injury or surgery. Your physical therapist has the relevant educational background and expertise to evaluate your knee health and to refer you to another health care provider if necessary.
Depending on the severity of your knee problem, your age, and your lifestyle, the therapist may select such treatments as:
Strength training and functional exercises, which are designed to increase strength, endurance, and function of your leg muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings). This in turn helps support the knee and reduce stress to the knee joint.
Your physical therapist can determine just how much you may need to limit physical activity involving the affected knee. He or she also can gauge your knee’s progress in function during your rehabilitation.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help Before & After Surgery?
Your physical therapist, in consultation with your surgeon, will be able to tell you how much activity you can do depending on the type of knee surgery (such as total knee replacement) you undergo. Your therapist and surgeon also might have you participate in physical therapy prior to surgery to increase your strength and motion. This can sometimes help with recovery after surgery.
Following surgery, your physical therapist will design a personalized rehabilitation program for you and help you gain the strength, movement, and endurance you need to return to performing the daily activities you did before.
Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?
Ideally, everyone should regularly get 3 types of exercise to prevent injury to all parts of the body, including the knees:
•Range-of-motion exercises to help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness.
•Strengthening exercises to keep or increase muscle strength.
•Aerobic or endurance exercises (such as walking or swimming) to improve function of the heart and circulation and to help control weight. Weight control can be important to people who have arthritis because extra weight puts pressure on many joints, including the knee.
To keep knee pain and other musculoskeletal pain at bay, it’s important to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle, exercise, get adequate rest, and eat healthy foods. It’s also important for runners and other athletes to perform physical therapist-approved stretching and warm-up exercises on a daily basis—especially before beginning physical activity.
Real Life Experiences
At age 56, Monica was in very good health—eating right, maintaining her weight, and exercising daily at home. One day she fell off her exercise equipment and twisted her knee. The pain was excruciating. Even though she could walk short distances, using her sore leg during her daily activities soon became impossible. Monica made an appointment with her physical therapist. The therapist reviewed her medical history, conducted a thorough examination, and consulted with Monica’s physician regarding the need for a series of X-rays to ensure no bones were broken in the fall.
Consultation with an orthopedic surgeon confirmed that there were no broken bones and no need for surgery. Monica’s physical therapist developed a program of strength training and functional exercises to increase her hip, knee, and ankle muscle strength and endurance. The physical therapist also recommended electrical stimulation of the knee to increase her quadriceps (thigh) muscle strength.
By following the physical therapist’s regimen, Monica decreased her knee pain, and her mobility improved dramatically. Regular ongoing strength-training knee exercises—and more careful use of her exercise equipment—have helped Monica remain free of knee pain.
What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?
Although all physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat people with knee pain, you may want to consider:
•A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, problems
•A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship FCAMPT in orthopedic physical therapy, giving the therapist advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition
General tips when you’re looking for a physiotherapist:
•Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.
•When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapist’s experience in helping people with TKR.
During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.
There is a common belief that there is not much you can do for osteoarthritis because the joint damage has already occurred and can’t be reversed. However it is often the inflammation of the tissue surrounding the joint and instability from the weakened tissues that lead to pain from an arthritic joint.
Our physiotherapists may be able to help you decrease the inflammation and pain around the joint and get you moving again. Here is some information about osteoarthritis and how we can help.
What is osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is a name for a group of conditions that cause damage to the joints in our body, usually causing pain and stiffness
Osteoarthritis is one of these conditions and it affects the whole joint, including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles
It is most prevalent in the joints of the hips, knees, neck, lower back, fingers and big toe, but can occur in any joint
It is degeneration of the joint structures, namely the cartilage (protective cushioning on the bony surfaces) and its underlying bone surfaces
Bony growths or spurs commonly known as osteophytes are common in osteoarthritis
Ligaments and muscles around the joint also deteriorate in osteoarthritis
It normally affects a joint on one side of the body i.e. it doesn’t normally occur bilaterally like other arthritic conditions
There are other arthritic conditions you may have heard of such as rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Signs and symptoms
Swelling of the joints
Symptoms usually develop and worsen gradually over months or years
Affecting ability to carry out normal daily activities
Clicking/grinding in the joint
Loss of flexibility in a joint
What causes osteoarthritis?
Previous joint trauma/injury
Being overweight greatly increases your risk
High joint stress/repetitive use/heavy loads
There is an increase risk as you age and there is more ‘wear and tear’ on the joints
Arthritis can be diagnosed by taking a thorough history and physical examination
X-ray can help confirm a diagnosis – you may need to see your doctor to get a referral
Our physiotherapists can help you with:
Strength and exercise programme
Joint mobilisation/soft tissue techniques
Aids or braces
Weight loss programme
Medication and joint supplements – your doctor can guide you on the best options
Surgical options such as joint replacement
Pre-operative rehabilitation has been shown to improve outcomes post-operatively, so if you are requiring surgery come and find out how you can help speed up your recovery with pre-hab
Some hints for the colder months
Cold weather can exacerbate joint pain and joint stiffness. Remembering a few common sense tips can help people with osteoarthritis survive cold weather:
Dress warmly and layer up
Exercise indoors to stay motivated and warmer
Use a heated pool for exercise – talk to your physiotherapist for local options and classes
Ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate
You don’t have to wait for the warmer months to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis! Book an appointment with a physiotherapist online 24/7,
At first it was just a niggle in your knee when you climbed stairs or were squatting. Then the pain and stiffness became more than a niggle and you began to feel it when walking, sitting and resting.
You may be hearing popping or cracking sounds in your knee, and notice that your knee “gives out” every now and again.
The knee is an amazing but complicated joint and knee pain is one of the most common reasons that people visit a physiotherapist.
Pain behind the kneecap is commonly called runner’s knee because it is often seen in athletes and people with an active lifestyle, although it can also be seen in everyone from the young adolescents during growth spurts to elderly people.
The medical term is patellofemoral pain syndrome. It is pain behind the kneecap where your patella (kneecap) slides along the groove in your femur (thighbone) beneath.
Pain and stiffness occurs when the kneecap does not slide smoothly and misaligns causing it to rub against your femur. Repeated mis-tracking causes pain, stiffness, and ultimately can cause damage to your kneecap joint surface.
Knee pain is most commonly noticed during activities that involve knee bending, jarring or weight bearing.
People most at risk are those whose sport or activity includes running, jumping or the need to land in a squatting position. Sports most commonly associated with knee pain include running, netball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, skiing and cycling. Many tradies such as tilers and carpet layers also have problems.
Causes of Runner’s Knee
Overuse – increased activity or increased duration and intensity of the activity
Changes in footwear or playing surfaces
Tight outer thigh muscles and weaker inner thigh muscles causing the kneecap to be pulled to one side
A twisting injury
Flat feet and lack of arch support
Weak hip control muscles
First aid for Runner’s Knee
Generally, knee pain is gradual onset, which means it gradually increases in severity over time.
As with most injuries, the best initial first aid is rest, ice packs (15 minutes at a time every 2-3 hours), and taking anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen.
You do not need a referral from a doctor to see a physiotherapist. If the pain is moderate, then you can seek treatment with your Physiotherapist immediately.
Physiotherapy is a proven treatment for runner’s knee. Your physiotherapist may initially tape or strap your kneecap to help pull it back into alignment and reduce pain.
Massage and joint mobilisation techniques are also commonly used to reduce swelling and restore movement.
You will be prescribed exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles that may be contributing to the problem. These exercises will change as you heal and will gradually increase in intensity to match your recovery.
If you wish to continue exercising to maintain your fitness during your treatment, then explore swimming, deep-water running and low-impact gym equipment such as elliptical trainers.
Depending on your knee pain cause, you may also be advised to explore arch supports, orthotics or different footwear. You may also require postural or technique correction in your chosen sport to stop problems from recurring, as well as a strength and conditioning plan to get you back to full competitive fitness.
In our experience, over 90% of runner’s knee physiotherapy clients will be pain free within six weeks of starting treatment. However, for severely damaged joints or arthritic joints, surgery may be required.
Things to Remember
Runner’s knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome is a common cause of knee pain.
It is a gradual onset injury and is most commonly noticed during activities that involve knee bending, jarring or weight bearing.
Physiotherapy is a proven method to speed healing, and prevent recurrence of knee pain.
Future management may also involve assessment of your gait and posture during exercise, and prescription of arch support or custom made orthotics.