It may not be basketball season currently (although we are getting close), but if you are a basketball fan, you may remember players such as Chris Paul or Dwayne Wade out of the game due to a knee injury. What exactly happened? It had to do with their meniscus.
What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that is responsible for providing cushion between your shin bone (tibia) and thigh bone (femur). Each knee has two menisci that are c-shaped pieces of cartilage. They are referred to by medical professionals as the lateral or medial meniscus; the medial meniscus larger than the lateral. The medial meniscus is located on the inside of the knee while the lateral meniscus is located on the outer side.
The functions of the meniscus
The menisci work to reduce the amount of friction put on the bones previously mentioned during movement by dispersing one's body weight. When the knee is bent or extended, the menisci work to create balance internally. They also are responsible for cushioning blows & absorbing shock to the leg, lubricating the joint, and providing stability.
Causes of meniscus tears/injuries
Most meniscus tears or injuries occur during sports that involve jumping, quick movements (including pivoting), contact, or sudden stopping. Some of the most common causes of a meniscal tear include:
1) Impact made to the front or side of the knee: Think of a football player being tackled. As a player runs down the field with the ball and nears the end zone, he is tackled from the side by a defensive player. If the defensive player makes contact with the knee and forces the knee to move sideways, he is at risk for tearing his meniscus.
2) Activity on uneven surfaces: Imagine a runner on a dirt path. The amount of pressure on the knees increases because of the uneven nature of the path. The athlete is at risk of tearing the meniscus because of the uneven amount of pressure & force on the knees.
3) Over rotating the knee: A soccer player is making a break for the ball and has to cut (pivot quickly) twisting the knee. The sudden twist of the knee may result in a tear or rupture of the meniscus.
4) Force causing the knee joint to flex back too far: A basketball player is going up for a layup and upon coming down, collides with a defensive player. The collision causes the knee to flex backward (hyper-extend) to far which results in a tear of the meniscus.
5) Degeneration within the knee: As we get older, certain parts of the body start to weaken including the meniscus. With years of wear & tear as well as the degeneration, the likelihood of tearing your meniscus as you get older increases.
What can you do to prevent a meniscus injury?
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to fully prevent a meniscus injury from happening but there are somethings you can do to lessen the severity if an injury does occur.
1) Strengthen the muscles around the knee: Think of the leg as a system that works together. In order to prevent a problem within the system, everything must be working properly and evenly. Work to strengthen all of the muscles in the leg so that if an incident occurs that may result in an injury to the mensicus, the other muscles work to support the leg and may help to prevent the injury from being as severe.
And it doesn't stop with the leg muscles! As we've said before, every movement starts with the core - that's the core concept behind Pilates.
2) Practice proper form: Whether you are lifting, running, or practicing your favorite sport, it is imperative to practice proper form. For example, if lifting, make sure your knees aren't jetting inwards or too far outward; ensure that you are dispersing your weight evenly on both feet; avoid squatting too much. If you are unsure if you are using proper form or are experiencing pain during your activities, consult with a strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist. They can tell you the proper way to do things to help you avoid injury.
3) Stretch/warm-up properly: Although you can't stretch or warm up the meniscus, make sure you take 10-15 minutes to properly warm up the rest of the body. Stretch your hamstrings, calves, periformis, hip flexors, and quads - again, think of your leg as a system that works together. Get your cardiovascular exercises in, too, like high knees.
When everything is warmed up, there's a lesser chance of injury. Warming up loosens the joints and gradually increases the blood flow to the muscles. Blood flow increases the muscle temperature which means your muscles are receiving more oxygen resulting in better performance.
Signs of a meniscus tear
As with most injuries, common signs of meniscus tear or injury include pain & swelling of the area. However, with a meniscus tear/injury, you may notice some stiffness of the knee, the inability to bend your knee, or pain in the area when participating in activities that include twisting of the knee or squatting. In more sever tears, you may notice symptoms such as locking, catching, or popping of the knee. This is caused by pieces of the meniscus getting caught within the joint. Other signs may include instability in the knee or the knee giving way unexpectedly. In all cases, it is best to be seen by a medical professional such as an orthopedic or physical therapist.
Thinking you may have a problem with your meniscus or want to learn what you should be doing to prevent an injury? We are happy to help! Send us an email and let us know what questions you have.