What is a meniscus tear?
A meniscus tear is a
common knee joint injury. This rubbery tissue acts as a shock absorber between
the upper and lower leg bones. Each knee has two C-shaped menisci (plural of
meniscus): a lateral meniscus at the outer side of the knee and a medial
meniscus at the inner side of the knee. A meniscus tear can limit your knee
function. See a picture of the
knee and the menisci .
How is the meniscus injured or torn?
tear usually occurs with a twisting or pivoting motion and often with the foot
planted and the knee partially flexed (for example, when lifting or playing
tennis). Other knee injuries, such as a torn ligament, can happen at the same
time. As you age, your meniscus becomes worn and may tear more easily. Meniscus
tears are rare in young children.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
symptoms of a meniscus tear often vary. In a typical minor tear, there may be pain and slight swelling at first. These symptoms
usually go away in 2 to 3 weeks.
In a typical moderate tear, you may feel pain at the side or center of the
knee, depending on where the tear is located. Often, you are still able to
walk. Swelling increases gradually over 2 to 3 days and may make your knee feel
stiff and limit bending. There's often sharp pain with twisting or squatting.
These symptoms go away but tend to recur with minor twisting or overuse.
In severe tears, pieces of the torn meniscus can
dislocate into the joint space. This can make the knee catch, pop, or lock. You
may not be able to straighten your knee. It can also feel "wobbly" or unstable,
or give way without warning. The knee may swell and become stiff right after
the injury, or over 2 to 3 days.
Older people whose menisci are
worn may not be able to think of a specific event that caused the tear or may
recall symptoms developing after a minor incident such as rising from a
squatting position. Pain and minimal swelling are often the only
How will my doctor diagnose a meniscus tear?
doctor will do a physical examination of both knees to evaluate tenderness,
range of motion, and knee stability. He or she will ask how the injury occurred
and whether you have ever had any other knee injuries. X-rays are usually done.
Your doctor may suggest that you follow up with an orthopedic surgeon.
How is a meniscus tear treated?
decisions depend on your doctor's preference; when the tear occurred; the
location of the tear; and your age, health status, and activity level.
Treatment options include:
- Nonsurgical treatment with rest, ice,
compression, elevation, and physical therapy. This may include temporarily
wearing a knee brace.
- Surgical repair.
removal of the torn section (meniscectomy). In rare cases, the
entire meniscus is removed.
In general, surgical repair is favored over a partial or
total removal. If the meniscus can be repaired successfully, saving the injured
meniscus by doing a meniscal repair-rather than a partial or total
meniscectomy-is likely to reduce the occurrence of knee joint
Small tears located at the outer edge of the
meniscus often heal with rest. Larger tears located toward the center of the
meniscus may not heal well because blood supply to that area is poor. In a
young person, surgery to repair the tear may be the first choice because it may
restore function. See a picture of
common meniscus tears .
Your age and activity level will also
determine whether surgery is a good option for you. In a young person, surgery
to repair a tear may be the first choice because it has a greater chance of
healing and restoring a more normal function to the knee. It is generally
believed that there is a poorer potential for healing in older patients. Older
people do have meniscus surgery, but experts believe that patients younger than
age 40 are more likely to have good results.1
The most common risks of surgery include infection, a blood clot in the
leg, damage to nerves or blood vessels, and the risks of anesthesia.
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