Meniscus Tear

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A meniscus tear is an injury resulting from damage to the shock absorbing cartilage of the knee joint. It typically results in pain on the inside of the knee. You will usually see a torn meniscus in contact sports through a collision between athletes. It is sometimes a result of sudden twisting of the knee. However, it can also happen to older athletes or active individuals. In these cases, it is usually a result of gradual degeneration of the tissues of the knee. Symptoms of a torn meniscus include pain, swelling and stiffness of the knee joint. In addition, the patient may feel a block to moving his/her knee beyond a certain point. Rest and icing, together with pain killing medication, are usually adequate treatments for a torn meniscus.

The knee has 2 menisci – lateral on the outer side of the knee and medial on the inner side. Each meniscus is a C shaped piece of cartilage functioning as cushions between the thigh bone and shin bone.

Causes & Risk Factors

A meniscus tear is usually the result of an activity that forces the patient to sharply twist or rotate the knee. Sometimes kneeling or deep squats or lifting a heavy object can result in this injury.

These are meniscus tear injuries that are produced by a trauma. However, in some cases, a meniscus tear can be the end result of degeneration of the knee’s cartilage tissue.

Playing sports that require sudden knee joint twists or pivots is a risk factor that increases the chances of a torn meniscus. These are mainly contact sports like football or rugby, or sports requiring sudden changes in running direction, like basketball.

Meniscus Tear Symptoms

In addition to pain in the region of the knee, typical symptoms of a meniscus injury are  swelling and a feeling that the knee is “giving way” and cannot support the weight of the body.

The patient may also experience difficulty straightening the injured knee fully. The knee may sometimes feel as though it is “locked” at a specific angle.


In dealing with a meniscus tear injury, the doctor will usually opt for conservative treatments as a first step. These strategies may include:

  • Avoiding activities that require twisting, rotating or pivoting the injured knee. The patient should try to keep weight off the knee, using crutches or a wheelchair if these are available.
  • Icing the knee regularly to control pain and swelling;
  • Taking non prescription pain medication like aspirin.

As a long term solution, the patient can follow an exercise program that strengthens the muscles next to the knee.

As a final resort, if the above strategies prove unsuccessful, doctors can perform surgery to repair meniscus tear damage by trimming the meniscus. If the meniscus damage is extensive and has led to osteoarthritis, knee replacement is an option. Yet a third surgical option is a meniscus transplant from a deceased donor.

A knee brace can also be a useful conservative treatment. Please read this article on choosing a knee brace for a meniscus injury for more information

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