Anatomy of a knee

My husband has been having pain in his right knee, the result of a fall while playing racquetball back in February. (He also pulled the hamstring group of muscles in his left leg, and the pain from that was so bad that he did not notice the problem with his right knee for some weeks.) The doctor tentatively diagnosed a torn meniscus, which was confirmed last week by an MRI.

I remembered from ninth grade science that a meniscus was the curve at the top of liquid in a cylinder (such as a test tube). Obviously the term means something else in relation to a knee, but I figured (correctly) that it probably had to do with the shape. It comes from the Greek word for “crescent.”

Despite having injured my own knee back when I was 22, I never had any clear idea just what the inside of a knee looks like. After all, back in 1984 we didn’t have wikipedia, and I wasn’t interested enough to go to the library and find a book about knees. Now I can see just how complex the knee is, and I’m not surprised that the doctor who treated me was never able to determine exactly what was wrong with my knee.

I had been riding my bike in around the neighborhood I had just moved to, along with my landlady’s granddaughter. I was looking at a street sign so I wouldn’t get lost as I had the previous day, and didn’t notice that Becky had stopped until it was too late not to run into her. I didn’t exactly fall off my bike – the bike and I fell together, with my left leg underneath.

I got up and limped home with the bike, thinking I was just bruised. I went to church as usual that evening (it was a Sunday), but when church was over I discovered that I was unable to get up from the pew. I had to be carried to my car and then into the emergency room at the hospital.

When they made me bend my knee for the X-ray, it hurt so bad that I decided that if giving birth hurt that much I didn’t think I wanted to ever do it. (Giving birth to my second son, who weighed 10 lb. 9 oz., definitely hurt, but I don’t remember actually crying from the pain, as I did during the X-ray to my knee.)

Unfortunately, the X-ray didn’t show anything helpful, so they gave (i.e. sold) me a knee immobilizer and a pair of crutches, and I spent the next few weeks discovering how difficult it was to do much of anything without two good legs. (I also got a number of comments that I looked like I had a football injury.) Within a couple of months I could walk normally again, and even jog a little, but I never knew when my knee would suddenly give me trouble.

I’d be walking along, and then suddenly the pain in my knee would be so bad that I could barely manage to hobble to the closest place to sit down. Within a minute of so, the pain would subside, and I could walk again, though always very cautiously in case it flared up again. These incidents gradually became less frequent, and I can’t remember when I last had one, though I think it was in the past few years.

Reading about meniscus tears, I wonder if that is what happened to me. It wouldn’t have shown up on the X-ray, and they didn’t do an MRI. (I doubt it was even a possibility – the technology existed but it was still quite new and my injury was hardly serious enough to warrant sending me to wherever the closest hospital was that had one.)

Several years later, when my knee started acting up again, I went to my doctor (not the same one – I had changed doctors when I got married), and he had me get an MRI (still not available at the local hospital but not less than an hour drive away). It showed nothing, though I don’t know what the quality of the images was, compared to now some twenty years later. (This page shows MRI images of meniscus tears.)

Time and the body’s natural capacity for healing seem to have been good for my knee. I don’t know whether the meniscus can heal or whatever rough edge was getting in the way just got worn smooth over time.

I did learn, about ten years ago, that my knees no longer have the ability to cushion my fall adequately if I jump from a height of over two feet. For a while my knee hurt pretty bad, but not for as long as with the original injury (at least when I jumped, I didn’t twist it).

Now I treat my knees with more care, and they seem to take care of me pretty well. As I walk the dog or go up and down stairs (why do washing machines have to be in the basement?), I am grateful to have two good knees – and four good menisci, since there are two in each knee.


One Response to Anatomy of a knee

  1. modestypress says:

    Empathy for your husband’s pain. While volunteering Wednesday, I became weak and went home. On Thursday, I could see that my left calf was swollen and very sore and a visit to the doctor Friday indicates that I have an infection. I am on a ten day course of antibiotics and pain killers, with directions to check in with my doctor on Monday to see if there is a call for a change or variation in the prescription. As we get older, it becomes an increasingly challenging task to keep all the parts in working order.

    Best wishes to you and your husband, and all your body parts.

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