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When it comes to injuries, ACL tears and concussions seem to garner a lot of attention in the sports world, but another common injury you don’t hear as much about is meniscus tears.
“It’s quite common especially in winter sports, or any kind of sport where your foot can get planted on the ground, such as football,” says Coordinated Health Orthopedic Surgeon Marcos Martinez, M.D. “It’s one of the most common injuries that we see in orthopedics.”
The meniscus is a pair of semi-circular structures between the femur and tibia.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz shocked fans in December when he went down with a knee injury against the Los Angeles Rams. Initially only reported as an ACL tear, Wentz made headlines a week later when doctors revealed other associated injuries, including a meniscus tear.
There are two types of meniscus injuries: acute/traumatic, and degenerative.
The onset of pain with either type of injury is usually sudden. “They also complain of mechanical symptoms such as clicking or catching sensations or even having difficulty straightening or bending the knee. Sometimes even some swelling as well,” says Dr. Martinez.
“If it’s an acute traumatic injury that’s amendable to repair, then usually that’s what’s done. And that’s done in a younger, athletic population,” explains Martinez. This type of tear is common when there is an also an ACL injury, as in the case of Carson Wentz.
For a degenerative tear, though, doctors often just remove the torn portion in what’s called a partial meniscectomy.
The recovery time depends which procedure is used. “If we’re doing a repair of the meniscus, then that is a little bit lengthier post-op. We have of course usually a protective period of time of about a month. So you’re getting back to sports around that three to four month period of time,” Martinez says.
For a partial meniscectomy, the recovery period is about 6 weeks.
Like an ACL tear, those is no way to completely avoid a meniscus injury, but Dr. Martinez says you can take preventive steps. “What I tell my patients is regular exercise and keeping strong and flexible,” are the best protections against a tear.