What does it mean when your knee starts popping and swelling? Is it because of a tear in the meniscus or is it because of a maladjusted spine? At my age, I’m used to the sandy sound of chondromalacia, but the popping and swelling is a whole new adventure.
When the Knee Popping Began
About 3 or 4 months ago I noticed my right knee started making a popping sound. It didn’t hurt, nor did it pop all the time. My knee would pop about 3 or 4 times a day so I just figured it was a part of aging. It didn’t stop me from anything I was doing so I pretty much ignored it.
Several months later (last week), the popping intensified to several times an hour and the knee started swelling. I sounded like I had my own portable 4th of July fireworks going on every time I moved. The popping I could deal with, but the swelling was uncomfortable. It got to the point where I couldn’t straighten my leg. This stopped me from my normal activities so I knew it was time (actually past time) for me to do something about it.
I believed the knee popping was a result of poorly aligned hips. My current chiropractor (who solved my sciatica problem) didn’t have one of those “drop” tables like my old chiropractor had. With the drop table, my old chiropractor was able to work his magic and get my poorly aligned, up-twisted right hip and down-twisted left hip back in sync. Without the drop table, the hips just weren’t budging.
Out with the New and in with the Old
So, I called my old chiropractor who I hadn’t seen in over 5 years. The first question I asked was whether or not he still had the drop table. Of course he did so I made an appointment.
Just an aside: I’m not tossing out either of my chiropractors. I’m keeping them both. I now know their strengths and weaknesses. If my sciatica begins to clear her ugly throat, I’ll go to chiropractor #2. If my hips/knees get funky, I’ll call chiropractor #1. They both will remain in my health arsenal. After all, traditional medicine requires a general practitioner, ear nose throat specialist, cardiologist, oncologist, proctologist, gynecologist, etc., etc., etc. I’ll keep my 2 chiro guys.
After catching up on what we’ve been doing for the past 5 years, he evaluated me. And, just as I suspected, my hips were twisted. He put me on the table, and with a few hip drops, things were temporarily aligned again. I say temporarily because it takes more than one visit to get adjustments to set.
Cold Laser Treatment on the Knee
We both agreed the popping sound had something to do with the poor hip alignment, but he wasn’t so sure that was the entire problem. There was quite a bit of swelling so a proper evaluation of the knee had to wait until after some of the swelling went down. He did mention concern about my meniscus, but couldn’t be sure without an MRI. In the meanwhile after the adjustment, he applied a cold laser treatment to the affected area.
Cold laser treatments are not painful at all. The laser looks sort of like a flashlight. He felt for the source of the swelling and aimed the laser there. We chatted for a few more minutes while the laser did its thing.
The effects of the first laser treatment last for about 5 hours or so after application. My knee was still swollen, but it felt a bit more stable after the adjustment and laser treatment. I’m very fortunate because throughout this process I did not experience knee pain.
Five Hours after the Laser Treatment
Around 4.5 to 5 hours after the treatment I started to notice my knee again. No pain, just the swelling and discomfort of swelling. And yes, it was still popping. Noticing my knee again and my chiropractor’s mention of a possible tear in the meniscus sent me on an internet search.
I’ve vicariously lived through the experience of meniscus surgery. My husband had it 15 years ago and his knee still isn’t right. He has a scar going down the front of his leg and I want no parts of that. His injury was also very severe. He tore his ACL, meniscus and shattered part of his femur. OUCH! Mine is just a possible little tear.
What is the Meniscus and What does it Do?
The first thing I did in my search was to try to get a better understanding of what the meniscus is. I knew it had something to do with cushioning the knee joints but couldn’t quite wrap my head around how it worked.
I’m not going to attempt to get technical, but the meniscus is cartilage that cushions the bones that meet at the knee, the thigh and shin bones(femur and tibia). Each knee has two menisci. That’s about as technical as I can get. For more technical explanations check out these articles:
- What is a Meniscus
- Meniscus Function
- Anatomy and Function of the Meniscus (most detailed explanation)
The knee is a very complicated joint with all kinds of ligaments, tendons, fluid and things to keep it functioning properly. From what I’ve learned and witnessed with my husband, a damaged meniscus could be a very painful condition. I feel fortunate that my situation only resulted in painless swelling and popping.
Because I feel my condition is not nearly as serious as some I’ve read about or witnessed, I’m opting for the natural healing route instead of surgery.
Healing the Knee Naturally
We do not know whether or not I actually have a torn meniscus. Without an MRI we won’t know for sure. in the meanwhile, in addition to chiropractic intervention, I decided to do everything I could to help my knee feel better. To that end, I went online to find out everything I could about self-healing a potentially torn meniscus.
I found several informative and promising articles. Below are just a few. The one that particularly struck me was the first one listed below, written by a 67-year-old woman (she was 67 at the time of the writing) who had torn her meniscus on two separate occasions. First, she tore one knee then the other and opted to heal both naturally.
- Torn Meniscus, Natural Treatments
- Can You Heal a Knee Injury Naturally? I Did
- How to Fix a Meniscus Tear without Surgery (Not something I would do, but an option nonetheless)
- How I Overcame 15 Years of Knee Pain (or grade 3 meniscus damage) (Yet another option)
- Knee Cartilage Repair: How One Patient Proved His Doctor Wrong
Using Essential Oils for Knee Healing
As a result of the research, I pulled out my essential oils and far infrared mineral lamp. Several articles talked about the benefits of essential oils for knee healing. I also learned that by layering the oils they retain their original therapeutic properties whereas combining in a carrier oil may synergistically alter the properties. Either way, no harm is being done. So I gathered the oils and began layering them on the affected area. I used 1-2 drops of each of the following oils (I use Rocky Mountain Essential Oils):
- Sweet Marjoram
The layering process takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes because I waited a minute or two for each oil to absorb before applying the next one. After they were all applied I sat under the far-infrared lamp for about 20 minutes. I did this 3 times a day. What I did notice was a reduction in swelling. The knee still popped, but not as frequently as before.
In addition to the oils and lamp, I decided to start drinking homemade bone broth again. The collagen in the broth is great for joints. To that, I’ve added glucosamine/chondroitin and MSM (Amazon affiliate link) and of course took vitamin C. If my knee is compromised and in need of repair, I want to give it as many building blocks as I can to help it heal.
In addition to the above, I continued to see my chiropractor three times a week. With each visit, he applied the cold laser therapy to the epicenter of the discomfort.
Exercise Routine for Rehabbing Knee
Because the knee was still in the healing process and too much walking seemed to bother it, I gave up my usual daily walks for a few more days (I really missed those walks). Instead, as the swelling decreased I was able to hop on my bike and ride a couple miles each day. Not only did my chiropractor suggest biking, but I read that biking and swimming were good exercises for rehabbing a compromised meniscus.
While biking I noticed something interesting. I noticed an endurance difference in the leg that was treated with the oils. Because I don’t often bike ride, my thigh muscles were introduced to a different way of operating. The more I pedaled, the more I began to feel the burn in my left leg (the leg that did not receive the essential oil treatment). The right leg, on the other hand, was ready to continue riding.
At first, I couldn’t understand why only one thigh muscle felt the burn until I realized it must be the essential oils. I’ve used a homemade preparation of peppermint, rosemary, ginger, eucalyptus in the past to treat sore muscles after a workout. I’ve never used them prior to a workout. This little accidental experiment is a game changer. Now I’ll apply the oils prior to working out for endurance. I read somewhere that essential oils are like legal doping. Too bad more athletes aren’t aware of this.
And the Treatment Continues
I’m a week and a half into my knee improvement protocol. The first visit to my chiropractor was Tuesday, September 5th. I felt a little improvement after visit #1. After visit #2 two days later, I felt like a new woman. I was able to begin biking over the weekend, just 4 days after my first visit.
As I write this, I’ve had a total of 5 chiropractic visits and I’m not only biking but am back to my 45-minute walks. I feel so good that I might start running again, but I don’t think I should push it so soon. At my age, I’ve got to take things slow.
Is it a Meniscus Tear?
Well, as I said earlier, I won’t know unless I get an MRI. My knee isn’t popping anymore, the swelling is down and I’m back to doing everything I did before. I don’t see a need for an MRI. I’ll continue to keep an observant eye on my knee and keep getting regular chiropractic adjustments until my hips remain balanced. Thereafter I’ll go for the occasional chiropractic “tune-up” as needed. If having my hips out of alignment was the true cause for this situation, I’d rather be proactive rather than reactive.
Is it a meniscus tear? In my untrained, non-professional opinion, I don’t think so.