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Is My Knee Pain Caused by Osteoarthritis or a Torn Meniscus?

A torn knee meniscus and knee osteoarthritis can present in similar fashions, This can make it difficult to know what the cause of your pain might be

Common symptoms of both osteoarthritis (OA) and a torn meniscus include:

  • Pain around the knee joint, worse after activity. Walking, running, or climbing stairs can make the knee pain worse.

  • Swelling and fluid in your knee. This occurs because of inflammation and may make the knee painful to the touch because it is tense and streches the lining of the knee joint.

  • Knee locking. True locking is when the knee often wont come out fully straight. It will often bend fine.

A knee meniscus tear and knee osteoarthritis affect different types of cartilage in the knee:

  • Knee osteoarthritis or OA refers to damage to articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is a very specialised coating that covers the ends of the bones in the knee joint, the femur (thigh bone) the top of the tibia (shin bone) and back of the patella (knee cap).

  • A torn meniscus refers to damage to a small C shaped wedge of rubbery cartilage that sits between the joint like a shock absorber and to transition between the very curved surface of the femur and the flat surface of the tibia.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when determining the cause of knee pain. This is the thought process we at wessex knee would go through to diagnose your pathology.

When did the pain start?

The biggest difference between arthritis and a torn meniscus is how acute the pain comes on. osteoarthritis pain comes on gradually and will often not have an injury or event to set it off. A meniscal injury requires some kind of force or twist and a very specific event.

  • If your knee pain increases gradually and cannot be placed back to a specific injury it is more likely to be arthritis.

  • If your knee pain arose suddenly, you may have a meniscus tear. Sporty and very active people are more likely to experience the type of injuries that cause meniscus tears. Skiing and football are very common means of causing a meniscal tear.

It is possible for a meniscus to break down slowly, but this is less common and is secondary to osteoarthritis rather than a true acute injury.

What does the pain feel like?

Another difference between arthritis and a torn meniscus is the pain.

  • Osteoarthritis tends to be an intermittent, dull, or aching pain. Often described as a tooth ache type pain. The breakdown of cartilage may cause bone rubbing on bone when moving, which can cause a feeling of stiffness or produce a grinding noise.

  • People with a torn meniscus often complain of acute and sharp, immediate pain following an injury. It is often swollen and stiff the next day. Tenderness to the inside or outside of the knee alone the joint line between the bones may indicate a meniscus tear.

Diagnosis of a Meniscal Tear?

Diagnosis of a meniscal tear requires us to examine your knee and carry out some investigatiosn such as an X-Ray to see narrowing of the joint in osteoarthritis. An MRI is best to see the cartilage layer and the little disc of cartilage the meniscus. If you have a meniscal tear it can be an emergency and we are now able to repair them rather than remove them. Having a consultation and MRI within 3 weeks is important to maximise the chances of healing and repair of your meniscus which would be done arthroscopically.

If you have early osteoarthritis an injection may be useful for you and one of the best is Hyaluronic acid which is a viscosuppliment ans acts as a gell lubricant within the knee to help reduce pain and inflammation.

If it is very severe arthritis joint resurfacing could be an option rather than a full total kee replacement. It has been shown in studies that nearly half of those treated with a full total knee replacement could have been candidates for a partial knee resurfacing. This is a smaller procedure, preserves your ligaments and gives you a more normal feeling knee. It also carries a lower surgical risk.

Getting a Diagnosis and Treatment for Knee Pain

Whether you think you have knee arthritis or a torn meniscus, your best bet is to visit us here at Wessex Knee and Mr Frame. Early treatment can prevent your symptoms from worsening and, in some cases, help you avoid future surgeries.

We hope this information has been useful. Please feel free to share it or link to it.



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