Joel Embiid’s knee injury: What is a meniscus tear and how is it treated?

Joel Embiid lies on the floor while warming up before the Sixers play the Houston Rockets on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 in Philadelphia.

Many Philly sports fans have heard about a new injury to hit our beloved 76ers. Last week, Sixers’ star center Joel Embiid was diagnosed with a minor tear in the meniscus of his left knee.

But what is a meniscus? And what can be done to fix it? Let’s take a look at the anatomy…

The meniscus is a band of tissue that cushions and supports the area between your tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone). If you didn’t have a meniscus, the cartilage that covers the top of your tibia and the bottom of your thigh bones would rub together and quickly wear out, causing bone-on-bone friction that eventually leads to arthritis. 

As you can see in the image below, looking down at the tibia, the medial (inner) meniscus and lateral (outer) meniscus together form a shape that looks a little like a Figure-8.  The shape of the femur bone forms a shape that sits nicely in each side of the loops of the Figure-8 shape.
When the inside or outside border of the meniscus rips, it’s called a tear. The most common way to tear the meniscus is by aggressively twisting the knee or stopping quickly while running.  You can also tear the meniscus during activities as simple as kneeling or heavy lifting.

Aside from obvious pain, symptoms of a meniscus tear include a clicking noise in the knee, a “locking” of the knee joint, and general swelling.  If you think that you may have a meniscus tear, the best thing that you can do is to schedule an appointment with an Orthopedist or physician specializing in sports injuries.  These specialists will perform x-ray and MRI testing to determine if there is a tear and the extent of it.

The good news is that a meniscus tear doesn’t always require surgery.  Often physical therpay is recommended to heal the injury. The timeframe for rehabbing a torn meniscus varies based upon the severity of the injury.  In general, you can expect to rehab a torn meniscus for about 4 to 8 weeks.

According to James Arnone, PT, DPT, Cert MDT, from Apex Physical Therapy in Exton, the best way to handle conservative care for a torn or partially torn meniscus is to start by restoring lost range of motion and muscle function. 

Try this simple stretch of straightening the knee to restore the joint’s ability to lock again.  Don’t push too much when you are doing this exercise. In most cases, the knee will gain flexibility with each set.  Aim for 10 reps, three times a day.

In addition, the swelling often associated with a meniscus tear can result in weakness of the quadriceps (thigh) muscles.  A straight leg raise exercise is often given to help the quadriceps regain strength.  When performing this exercise, use a slow and controlled motion making sure that the knee is kept straight. Start off with 20 reps, three times a day.

Finally, people who injure their knees often have associated weakness in the hip muscles so we always include hip strengthening exercises such as the clamshell.  Start off doing 20 reps, three times a day with slow and controlled motion. 

As with any injury, it’s always best to consult with your doctor first before beginning any type of treatment or rehabilitation program.

Dr. Legere is a Chiropractic physician specializing in athletic injuries and physical pain. He is a published author, medical consultant to professional athletes and musicians and the creator of PATCH Technique which is a conservative approach to help people dealing with muscular or soft tissue injuries. More information on Dr. Legere can be found at patchchiro.com.


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