The lateral meniscus is a structure located inside the joint of the knee. This circular band of fibrous cartilage acts as a cushion between the two bones of the joint, aiding in weight distribution and absorbing shock. Sports injuries of the knee can cause a lateral meniscus tear, which might take a long time to heal if not treated promptly and correctly.
Within the knee there are two menisci: the lateral and the medial meniscus. Each is a roughly circular structure, and lying side-by-side the two resemble a figure eight. Both structures are connected to ligaments that articulate the knee. In the rear of the joint, the meniscus is connected to the posterior cruciate ligament. Fully functional menisci are essential for the knee to function correctly, and if one or both are injured, the knee joint often is seriously impaired.
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In contrast to the medial meniscus, the lateral meniscus is relatively unlikely to sustain an injury, as it is less fully articulated. Uncontrolled or sudden twisting movements might cause a torn lateral meniscus. These tend to occur in sports where sudden changes of direction are common, such as football, hockey and other contact sports. Older people are more at risk of an injury to the meniscus, because the quality of cartilage degenerates with age.
Symptoms of an injury to the lateral cartilage disc include pain or tenderness around the lateral surface of the knee. This surface is on the outside of the knee. Within one to two days of sustaining injury, the knee will swell and become more tender and painful. The pain of this injury is most intense when the knee is bent or rotated. Sometimes the joint might make a clicking or cracking sound when manipulated.
Mild injuries to torn lateral knee cartilage can be treated by applying the RICE method, which comprises rest, ice, compression and elevation of the joint. Because athletes and sports participants most often sustain these injuries, it is usually desirable that some form of exercise be maintained even while the injury is healing. Often it is possible to continue with gentle exercise to maintain muscle mass and strength, as long as the joint injury is not aggravated.
If the injury is too severe to be treated at home, lateral meniscus surgery might be needed. Injuries that require surgery are sometimes known as “bucket-handle” tears, in which the tear in the cartilage has extended far enough that a portion of the meniscus tears off like a handle-shaped flap. Generally, the intent of surgery is to preserve and repair as much of the meniscus as possible, but in some cases, the damage is so severe that total removal might be necessary. After surgery, a patient will undergo a schedule of physical therapy exercises to aid recovery and improve the strength and flexibility of the joint.