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What is a Meniscus Tear?

Professional basketball players are incredible to watch play. The agility of their movements is impressive; they dunk, swerve, jump, and sprint as if they have no bones. Frequently, their opponents can’t tell if they’re going to go right or left. However, those seemingly graceful twists and turns can come can lead to a torn meniscus.

Meniscus tears are very common knee injuries. An activity that makes you firmly twist or rotate your knee, particularly when adding your full weight to it, can cause a torn meniscus. Athletes, especially those who play a sport that requires a lot of twisting, squatting, and quickly changing positions, can tear their meniscus. Though, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus. If someone talks about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.

Wear and tear on the knees as you age increases the risk of a torn meniscus. The cartilage deteriorates and wears thin over time and becomes more prone to tears. Something as simple as an unusual twist while getting up may be sufficient to produce a tear.

Obesity can also be a potential risk factor for a torn meniscus.

Meniscus Tear


Three bones join to form the knee joint: the thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella).
Each knee has two C-shaped cartilage pieces that act as shock absorbers between your shinbone and your thighbone. These cartilage pieces are called the meniscus, and they are durable and rubbery to help protect the knee joint and keep it stable. Normally, the knee is a tough, strong joint. But it is not the most flexible when it comes to rotating in particular directions. During some activities, especially contact sports, the force and degree of twisting of the knee can tear some of that cartilage.


Menisci can tear in different ways. Tears are documented by how they look, in addition to where the tear appears in the meniscus. Common tears include flap, bucket handle, and radial.

Meniscus Tear Anatomy


When a meniscus is torn, you may feel a popping sensation. Many people can still walk on their injured knee; even some athletes keep playing with a tear. After 2 to 3 days, the knee gradually becomes stiff and swollen.

Later, you may experience:

  • Pain in the knee joint that is intermittent but gets worse when placing pressure on the joint.
  • Stiffness and swelling.
  • A sense that your knee will not support you and is giving way, locking, or catching when you bend it.
  • You cannot move your knee through its full range of normal motion.

It is possible that you can still stand and walk after the injury with only a small amount of pain, depending on the seriousness of the tear.

Left untreated, part of the meniscus may come loose and slide into the joint, causing more knee issues, requiring more significant surgery later. A meniscus tear can put limits on your daily life and impede your ability to partake in exercise and sports. In severe cases, it can evolve into a long-term knee problem, like arthritis.

Sports-related meniscus tears frequently happen with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.

Doctor Exam

An orthopedic physician should be consulted to establish if the meniscus has been damaged after an injury to the knee. The orthopedic physician will check the knee joint’s tenderness and move the affected leg to get a gauge of your knee’s range of motion. They may also order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to establish the tear’s exact location and severity.
The orthopedic physician will then determine the best course of treatment based on the location, degree, type of tear, as well as age and activity level of the patient.
One of the key tests for meniscus tears is the McMurray test. The doctor will bend the patient’s knee, then straighten and rotate it. These movements put tension on a torn meniscus. If you have a torn meniscus, this movement will produce a clicking sound.

Imaging Tests

Other knee issues can often cause similar symptoms, so your doctor may order imaging tests to help establish the diagnosis.
X-rays. Even though x-rays do not show meniscus tears, they may indicate other knee pain causes, such as osteoarthritis.
MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging). This test creates better images of the soft tissues of your knee joint, like a meniscus.


The treatment of your tear by your orthopedic surgeon will depend on the type of tear you have, its location, and size.
Other factors to consider for your treatment plan will include your age, activity level, and any related injuries.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Some people, especially athletes, may think that a meniscus tear will heal over time on its own. But there are different types of meniscus tears, and some tears will not heal without surgical repair.
The outer one-third of the meniscus area has a healthy blood supply, so it’s possible that it could heal on its own. The blood cells can regenerate meniscus tissue or help it heal after surgical repair.
If the tear is small and on the meniscus’ outer edge, it may not necessitate surgical repair. Providing that your symptoms do not continue and your knee is stable, nonsurgical treatment may be all that is needed.


The RICE protocol is helpful for most sports-related injuries. RICE means Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

    • Rest – Discontinue the activity that caused the injury, at least until you have healed. Your doctor may advise that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on your affected leg.
    • Ice – Use cold packs for 15-20 minutes at a time, frequently during the day. Make sure you don’t apply ice directly to the skin.
    • Compression – Wear an elastic compression bandage on the affected leg to prevent additional swelling and blood loss.
    • Elevation –Rest the affected leg in a position higher than your heart to reduce swelling,

Utilize non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
If your symptoms continue with nonsurgical treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Surgical Treatment

For more serious tears, surgery is usually the best course of treatment. The objective of surgery is to maintain the meniscus by repairing or removing the torn part.
The inner two-thirds of the meniscus doesn’t have a blood supply, so this area cannot heal on its own. These tears are often in worn, thinning cartilage. Since the pieces cannot grow back together, tears in this area will need to be surgically trimmed away.

Following surgery, your doctor will prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen your knee, regain range of motion, and get back to normal activities.


Meniscus tears are very common knee injuries. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and physical therapy, patients frequently return to their pre-injury activities.

Please request an appointment online or call 904-825-0540 to schedule with one of our leading orthopedic specialists.