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OA and the meniscus

May 14, 2013

The menisci act to disperse forces accross the joint surface to reduce point-specific pressures. If the menisci are injured, the knees suffer increased risk of osteoarthritis.

The knee joint is the junction of the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone), with the patella (knee cap) resting in an anterior groove.  When the leg is loaded, weight travels down the thigh towards the knee, but before it hits the shin, the force is dispersed by two shock absorbers in the knee called the menisci.  The menisci are filled with fluid, and when loaded, they spread the force over a broader area to prevent point-specific loading.  Without the  menisci, isolated forces could lead to breakdown and could damage the cartilage in the knee, and eventually the bone surfaces themselves.

Unfortunately, the menisci are often injured.  More specifically, the medial meniscus is frequently damaged as part of the “terrible triad” (a simultaneous injury to the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and the medial meniscus).  Meniscal tears are particularly dangerous because the menisci have very little blood supply.  This means that it is difficult for your body to provide the nutrients necessary to heal the menisci, and so they recover very slowly.  This is also troublesome because it may permit serious harm without severe pain, so you may not be aware of the severity of your injury.  This lack of pain is often short-lived, since research published in the journal, Arthritis and Rheumatism demonstrates that meniscal injury often precedes damage to cartilage and then osteoarthritis.

Even painless meniscal injuries are nearly always accompanied by swelling, so do not assume that you are healthy if your swollen knees are painless.  Anything that cause s excessive swelling may be causing harm.  If you think you may be injured, consult your doctor immediately.  If you wait until you feel pain, you may already be waiting too long.

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