During an examination for a possible meniscus tear, your doctor will ask you about past injuries and what you were doing when your knee started to hurt. He or she will do an exam of both knees to evaluate tenderness, range of motion, and knee stability. An X-ray is usually done to evaluate the knee bones if there is swelling, if there is pain at a certain place (point tenderness), or if you cannot put weight on your leg.
Your knee may be too painful or swollen for a full exam. In this case, your doctor may withdraw fluid from your joint and inject a numbing medicine (local anesthetic) into the joint. This might relieve your pain enough that you can have an exam. Or the exam may be postponed for a week while you care for your knee at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Your family doctor or an emergency room doctor may refer you to an orthopedist for a more complete examination. An orthopedist may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if the diagnosis is uncertain. An MRI typically gives a good picture of the location and extent of a meniscus tear and also provides images of the ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.
An orthopedist may recommend arthroscopy, a procedure used to examine and repair the inside of the knee joint by inserting a thin tube (arthroscope) containing a camera with light through a small incision near the knee joint. With arthroscopy, the orthopedist can directly view and possibly treat the meniscus and other parts of the knee.