This a story about the meniscus tear injury I suffered over a year ago, and the subsequent process I had to go through to get my knee injury diagnosed, operated on, and feeling good again.
The Injury: The injury happened sometime around spring 2010 while I was training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. My leg got twisted to the outside while my knee was bent, and I immediately felt something tear in my leg. At the time of the injury, I was worried that I had torn a major ligament in my knee, such as the ACL, MCL, PCL, or LCL.
The Misdiagnosis: A day or two after I hurt my knee, I went to see a physiotherapist in Vancouver to try to figure out what happened to it, and what I needed to do in order to see the fastest possible recovery. The physiotherapist that I saw completely misdiagnosed the injury, telling me that all the ligaments in my knee were fine, and that the injury was a strained gastrocnemius (calf muscle) close to where it originates above the knee (hence the knee pain). The physiotherapist told me the injury was very minor, and said that I should take a couple weeks off of training to let the injury heal.
6-Months Of Knee Pain: I took the physiotherapist’s advice and took a brake from all of my training (BJJ and regular exercise) to try to let the injury heal. Two weeks went by very quickly and the injury felt worse, not better. I avoided exercise for about 2 or 3 months hoping that the injury would heel, and when it didn’t get any better, I decided to return to BJJ training and other exercise and just do my best to avoid the types of movements that bothered my knee.
Second Opinion (aka Proper Diagnosis): After about six months of very uncomfortable knee pain, and being under the impression that my injury was a stubborn calf strain that just wouldn’t heal, I decided to go see a different physiotherapist for a second opinion. Within five minutes of seeing this physiotherapist, he told me that my injury was definitely not a calf strain, and after he performed some more tests on my leg, he said he was very sure that it was a tear to my medial meniscus. He recommended that I get an MRI to confirm his suspicion of a meniscus tear, and he said that this injury would likely require arthroscopic surgery.
The MRI: It took me about two or three months to get an MRI done on my knee (Canadian healthcare covers MRIs if you get in line and wait a few months for it). A week after having my MRI done, I received the results: a complex tear to the medial meniscus, and a small tear in the lateral meniscus. I was told that surgery would most likely be required on the meniscus tears. The MRI also revealed a small MCL tear that likely wouldn’t require surgery. I was put on the waiting list to see an orthopedic surgeon (covered by Canadian health care if you wait in line).
Consultation With Surgeon: I ended up having to wait about 3 months before I could get in to see an orthopedic surgeon. Once I got in to see the surgeon, the meeting was fast and straight to the point. The doctor told me the that the tear in my medial meniscus was very bad and needed surgery. He also said he would clean up the small tear in the lateral meniscus. He showed me on a model knee exactly what he intended to do during the surgery, and before I left the office I put my name on a waiting list for arthroscopic surgery (I was told it could take around 3 months before my surgery would be scheduled).
Surgery: I ended up waiting about 2 months to hear back about my surgery, at which time they gave me my surgery date, which was scheduled the following month (about 3 months after my consultation with the surgeon). I had the surgery yesterday, and it was as smooth as I could have hoped for. I was put under general and local anesthetic, the surgery took somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes, and after spending about an hour in recovery, I was able to walk out of the hospital. The doctor prescribed me Tylenol 3 in case I experienced a lot of pain in my knee after the local anesthetic wore off, but I didn’t experience any knee pain after the surgery, so I didn’t need to bother filling the prescription (I almost certainly wouldn’t have bothered with the Tylonal 3′s even if the pain was horrific, but that’s another story).
Lesson Learned: The biggest lesson I learned through this process was how important it is to get a second opinion for an injury like this. I ended up wasting about 6 months on the misdiagnosis of the first physiotherapist I saw. In hindsight, after about a month of not exercising and realizing that my knee wasn’t getting better (it was feeling worse), I should have gone to see another physiotherapist for a second opinion. Instead I spent the next 5 months rarely exercising and hoping that my knee would get better if I just took more time off exercising. Once I saw the second physiotherapist and had my injury correctly diagnosed, I learned that no amount of time off was going to heal my knee injury. Surgery was my only option. I wish I had discovered that 5 or 6 months earlier, but live and learn.