QUESTION: I have been diagnosed as possibly having a torn medial meniscus in the right knee. I understand this is usually caused by a fall or bumping into a hard object. I remember no such incident. I am an avid golfer. Can a torn meniscus heal itself? Is arthroscopic surgery the answer? I'm a 60-year-old male. - D.F.T.

ANSWER: Menisci (plural of meniscus) are pads of cartilage that buffer the surfaces where ends of the upper and lower leg bones meet at the knee. They reduce friction at those points. The medial meniscus lies to the body side of the knee joint.Any injury or violent knee twist can tear the meniscus from its bone attachment. It's quite possible that the continuing forces from a too-aggressive golf swing had something to do with your meniscus tear. Sometimes, such forces cause the meniscus to flip into an unnatural position and lock the joint. The classic and most devastating meniscus tear occurs in a football player whose cleats snag in turf as his body hurtles in the opposite direction.

Generally speaking, menisci don't have good blood supply, so they really don't heal themselves. The arthroscope, a narrow, hollow tube instrument that can be inserted into a joint, is helpful in assessing meniscus injury. If only a part of the meniscus is damaged, it can often be removed in the arthroscope procedure. When this can be done, you can count on fairly rapid recovery and rehabilitation of the joint.

However, only part of a damaged structure can be removed. If the entire meniscus must be removed, the doctor must resort to conventional surgery. That involves opening the joint, which, of course, lengthens recovery time.

QUESTION: Regarding ibuprofen: I take it for arthritis. The warning always is to take it for 10 days only. The explanation I've received for this warning is not clear. Can you comment? - Ms. V.A.L.

ANSWER: I checked the ibuprofen manufactured by one of the big pharmaceutical firms and found no warning of that type. Such a warning makes sense, however, for people who might decide to self-treat indefinitely with this anti-inflammation drug. There's good reason for not wanting that to happen.

Ibuprofen, like the other similar aspirin-like medicines, not only relieves inflammation, but also pain. The source of long-lasting pain should be investigated. Such pain should not be masked forever with medicines. In your case, the source of pain is known - arthritis. Therefore, the drug can be and, of course, often is used for much longer periods than 10 days. Some people use it for years and years.

QUESTION: I am a 21-year-old college student. You would never believe it, but I once won a beauty contest. Now I am Miss Stretchmarks. I have the ugly red lines on my thighs and buttocks. Are they, as my doctor tells me, a part of growth? Explain, please. - Miss S.

ANSWER: These striae are common in women. They are best explained as inordinate growth in the areas of the body where they occur. They represent lines of stress along certain skin fault lines. A young person has a good chance of the marks fading with time.

QUESTION: I have noticed many women using a microwave oven to heat baby bottles. Is this accepted practice? - Mrs. M.D.

ANSWER: It can be dangerous. The outside of the bottle may feel only slightly warm, but the formula deeper down can be scalding hot. This should serve as a warning to parents.

There is a persistent myth, incidentally, about the need to scald baby formula before feeding it. It doesn't have to be heated. It's quite safe to serve at room temperature. Mothers may want to heat it if that makes it more acceptable to the infant, but there's nothing wrong with the hurried mother offering formula at room temperature if she chooses.

FOR MRS. L.L. - Massage to improve leg circulation is best done in a milking manner. Using both hands, massage upward starting from the knee area. Then move the starting level down slightly, again massaging upward. Eventually, you should have lengthened the upward stroking all the way from the ankle to the upper leg.

C) 1989 North America Syndicate Inc.