Q. I am a 40-year-old active recreational athlete. I work out at the gym at least three days a week and play soccer on the weekends. About three months ago, I felt a pop in my left knee while playing. The knee swelled but improved after a few days. I still have pain on the inside part of my knee, and sometimes it gets stuck and takes awhile to straighten it out. I am able to play and work out but my knee hurts while doing it. A friend says it is cartilage damage. Should I stop playing and how long before my knee heals?
A: The most common reason for knee symptoms that result in swelling, catching and pain along the inside or outside of the joint is a meniscal cartilage tear. Many times an athlete will feel a pop when the meniscus tears, but in most patients, the meniscus may tear slowly over time. The meniscus is a C- or O-shaped shock absorber that sits between the ends of the knee bones (femur and tibia).
If the meniscus tears, there is limited ability for it to heal by itself and the tear can get bigger and more complex over time. I recommend you see an orthopedic surgeon for an exam. An MRI scan may also be helpful in confirming the diagnosis.
If a meniscal tear is found in someone your age who is having pain and catching, you likely will need arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem. The sooner you get treatment, the better the chance of a successful meniscal repair. Most individuals with your problem are able to return to full sports activity after treatment.
Dr. Harlan Selesnick is team physician of the Miami Heat and director of Miami Sports Medicine Fellowship, Doctors Hospital. Send your questions to HarlanS@baptisthealth.net