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Do I Have Knee Arthritis or a Meniscus Tear?

As we all get older, we all begin to notice aches and pains during activities that were once comfortable. Aches and pains in our knees are an unavoidable factor as we age, but it can also mean that you’re experiencing arthritis or even a meniscus tear.

When a patient has pain pain localized to their knees, exploring the possibility of arthritis or a meniscus tear are two of the first things we look for. Of course, a person under the age of 50 is much less likely to have arthritis, but rheumatoid arthritis can always affect younger individuals over the age of 16.

In this blog, we’re going to answer one of our most common questions: “Do I have knee arthritis or a meniscus tear?”

What Does Arthritis Feel Like?

Although their pains may present similarly, arthritis is distinctly different from a meniscus tear.  Arthritis arises slowly, unlike a meniscus tear. Over the years, you may notice that you knees have become “creakier,” are stiffer in the mornings, or feel an increase in pain after activity.

Stiffness, reduced range of motion, and slight swelling are all symptoms of arthritis. Though arthritis can occur anywhere in your body, it is mostly found in frequently moving joints – like your knees. Though arthritis is associated with joints being worn down over years of use, keeping active is an important part of keeping away arthritis – though activities should be done carefully to not injure yourself.

If your knee pain, or stiffness has gotten progressively worse with time, it’s likely you have developed arthritis. The severity of your pain and limitations to your range of motion, will determine the proper course of treatment.

We recommend waiting as long as you can before getting a knee replacement if you do have arthritis of the knee. With physical therapy and injections, may people are able to avoid a knee replacement for a few months up to a few years.

The reason we recommend putting off the surgery as long as possible is because knee replacements do wear out. By having a patient explore alternative treatments first, like cortisone injections, they will be able to be active longer before the knee is replaced – therefore giving the “life” of their replacement an extension as well.

What is a Meniscus Tear?

A meniscus tear is an injury that occurs to the meniscus, or cartilage, of your knee. This cartilage rests between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone) to make movement smooth and easy in this major joint.

As one of the most frequently used, and injured, joints in the body, getting a meniscus tear is possible in people of all ages and throughout different levels of activity. While an older individual may experience a meniscus tear after a fall, a younger person could tear their meniscus during a game of soccer.

Tears can vary in degree, which dictates how much pain and discomfort you may feel as well as whether or not surgery is a necessity right away. Because the cartilage throughout our entire body isn’t given a good supply of blood, injuries to cartilage are slow, difficult, or impossible to heal naturally. Still, some patients with chronic tears that aren’t too large may experience relief with physical therapy and injections of anti-inflammatory medications for years before surgery becomes a necessity.

A meniscus tear, due to the nature of its occurrence, is often a sharp and sudden pain localized to the point in your meniscus that was damaged. This pain is heightened with bending or twisting, usually mimicking the action that caused the tear in the first place. Athletes who play fast-paced sports, like football, soccer, and rugby, are most commonly afflicted by meniscus tears.

Before coming into our office, many patients grapple with the question of whether or not they have arthritis or a meniscus tear. The simple answer is that it may be difficult to determine on your own, especially if your meniscus tear is small and the injury itself doesn’t stand out as a specific memory. Our highly trained staff will be able to diagnose your problem and work with you to relieve your pain and create a treatment plan that works with your lifestyle.

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