The meniscus is cartilage inside the knee that provides cushioning for the joint. It also stabilizes the joint and protects it from excess wear that can occur over time and through vigorous activity. A torn meniscus is a common athletic injury that typically occurs when someone pivots on a foot and twists the knee too forcibly. Some individuals must have surgery to repair the tear, while others are able to heal on their own with assistance from a doctor. They may need to wear a knee brace for meniscus tear to keep the joint immobilized and supported while it heals.
A meniscus tear can be relatively minor or it can be severe. Immediate symptoms include sudden pain and gradual swelling of the knee joint. It may be difficult to straighten the leg either because the torn cartilage is in the way or because doing so is painful. In some instances, a piece of cartilage actually is torn off and moves around within the knee. That can cause the knee to lock up. Knee buckling is another sign of a severe tear, as the joint has lost some vital support. These situations usually mean the patient needs an operation.
On the other hand, if the only symptom is intermittent pain or discomfort that can be managed with rest, ice and over-the-counter medication, doctors usually recommend waiting to see if the tear will heal. Physical therapy also may be advisable. In general, tearing on the outer portion of the cartilage may heal if the injury is not too severe. This area is able to receive plentiful blood through circulation, which brings extra healing nutrients and oxygen in response to the inflammation. A tear on the inside of the meniscus is unlikely to repair itself through the body’s own efforts because circulation there is not sufficient for this process.
Wearing a brace prevents the knee from twisting again. After the tear heals, the doctor or physical therapist may recommend continuing to wear the brace while doing physical activity that could strain the joint. The cartilage may be weaker than it was previously, and the brace prevents re-injury by preventing the knee from rotating too far out of its normal range.