You might know the feeling: You’re twisting to grab something, lifting something heavy or joining in a tennis match, when suddenly you feel a pop! Your knee just doesn’t want to work anymore — especially through the pain and swelling that follows. Well, you might have just torn your meniscus, the disc that provides cushioning for your knee.
If you’re over 30, play sports regularly or have osteoarthritis, you’re at a higher risk for meniscus tears. Your joints are already struggling to keep up, making it a prime opportunity for your knee to accidentally trip you up. Luckily, treatment exists, especially for minor tears that won’t cause as much of a problem. In this article, we’ll examine how hyaluronic acid can be used as an effective treatment for the pain and swelling caused by minor meniscus tears.
What is a Meniscus Tear?
The meniscus essentially serves as a shock absorber for your knees. They’re firm, rubbery pieces of cartilage that resemble the letter C or a crescent moon. You’ve got two on each knee — one at the outer edge and one at the inner edge. Without them or if one of them gets injured, your knee won’t function properly because your bodyweight isn’t distributed evenly anymore.
If your doctor diagnoses you with a meniscus tear, it’s going to fall into one of three categories.
- Minor. The mildest of the three tears, this one causes only a little swelling and pain and usually lasts a couple of weeks.
- Moderate. Moderate tears worsen over time, with increased swelling and pain focused on the side or center of the knee. You’ll still be able to walk, but it’ll be stiff, and certain movements could trigger a sharp pain. Moderate tears need treatment, even if the pain and swelling go away; otherwise, the injury could last for years
- Severe. With severe tears, the pain and swelling occur immediately. And it’s more than just a tear—the torn pieces of the meniscus can move into space reserved for the joint, causing the knee to pop, become immobile or give out.
Mild meniscus tears are the least traumatic of the three types and usually occur on the outer edges of cartilage. Because they are so close to your blood supply, your body can usually heal a minor tear on its own. It doesn’t need much treatment aside from rest, ice, elevation and a compression wrap. If necessary the doctor might also recommend physical therapy.
This article, though, focuses on a way that could help ease the pain and speed up recovery if you happen to suffer from one.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
“Hyaluronic acid” sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. It is a substance found throughout our bodies that keeps our skin and joints hydrated and plump. Dermatologists and skin care aficionados love it, noting that taking it as a supplement or using it as a topical treatment keeps your skin looking supple and fresh. Plus, it keeps inflammation down and helps wounds heal quicker. The clear, gel-like substance can also be injected into aching joints to provide lubrication and pain relief.
Hyaluronic acid is typically already found in joints, but as we age, the amount in our bodies begins to decrease. That means our joints will become less lubricated, increasing the risk of cartilage deterioration—which makes a meniscus tear much more likely, particularly in people who already have arthritis.
Will Hyaluronic Acid Help the Tear?
It’s good for our skin and healthy for our bones, but will hyaluronic acid actually help minor meniscus tears? Well, for the short term at least, yes. Hyaluronic injections into the knee can help ease the pain and calm inflammation. It has been found that when assessing pain levels, hyaluronic acid was effective in treating early-stage meniscal injuries.
Other treatments that can help relieve the pain of a meniscus tear as it heals includes using ice, wrapping the knee or using a brace and home exercise or physical therapy. You may need to use crutches if you are having pain when standing. Your doctor will guide you in finding the treatment plan that will get you back to doing the activities you love.
How are Meniscus Tears Diagnosed?
Most often, symptoms for meniscus tears are pain, swelling, stiffness, and sharp pain when you move your leg a certain way, which depends on how the meniscus broke. A doctor will want to do a range-of-motion check, physically examine the knee to determine if one of your menisci really is torn, check your knee stability, and ask some questions about what you’d been doing before the pain started. In most situations, a diagnosis will likely include getting an MRI to determine the best course of treatment, whether it’s physical therapy, injections or referral to a surgeon to repair or remove part of the meniscus.
Traditionally, knees will become more arthritic after suffering a meniscus tear. But if you take good care of yourself afterward—and boost your recovery with hyaluronic acid injections—you can ease the pain and possibly slow the arthritic progression.