The meniscus is a small piece of cartilage that cushions the space where the thigh and shin bones meet. Sometimes, certain movements can cause this cartilage to tear which might in turn cause pain or clicking in the knee. But how do you know if these symptoms are, in fact, caused by a torn meniscus?
Well, the most foolproof way to diagnose a torn meniscus is from imaging. You can head to your doctor, schedule an MRI and wait for the results from the radiologist. That, as you can imagine, could take some time. However, if you're looking for a quick way to test from home, you can try out the test that physical therapists use to indicate a meniscus tear: the Thessaly Test. Here's how you do it:
You'll want to start by testing your uninjured leg first to get a feel for it and establish a baseline. Stand flat-footed on one leg (the weight-bearing leg should be the uninjured leg to start). Flex your knee slightly, only about 5°, and slowly twist your body to the left and right a few times. There should be no pain. Bend your knee a bit more, to about 20° of flexion, and repeat the twisting. There should still be no pain.
Now that you know what this feels like on the uninjured leg, you can try it on the injured leg. If you experience pain while twisting, that is a good indicator that you may have a meniscus tear. The location of the tear is determined by the direction of the twist that causes the pain.
If you try this test and experience painful symptoms, you should most definitely talk to a professional and get it checked out. If this test is negative but your knee pain persists, it still might be worth it to have a professional take a look and make sure you don't have any concerning injuries. Keep in mind that this test is meant to be performed by professionals and is not 100% accurate. If you are experiencing painful knee symptoms, please seek medical attention.
Now, what do you do if you do have a meniscus tear? Your orthopedic doctor may recommend steroid injections to help manage the pain and inflammation in the area. Depending on the severity, they may also recommend surgery. However, there are physical therapy techniques that can be utilized to help avoid surgery. Make sure you consult with your orthopedic doctor and physical therapist to determine which intervention might be right for you!
Remember, we heal smarter, not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin