Health Library

Torn Meniscus

What is a torn meniscus?

Anatomy of the knee showing a healthy meniscus and a torn meniscus.
Click image to enlarge

The ends of the 3 bones in the knee the femur, tibia, and patella are covered with cartilage. Cartilage is a smooth material that covers the ends of the bones and cushions them where they meet. It allows the joint to move easily and acts as a shock absorber. Between the bones of the knees are 2 crescent-shaped discs of connective tissue, called menisci. These also act as shock absorbers, protecting the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body.

Meniscus tears can occur during a rotating movement while bearing weight. One example would be twisting your upper leg while the foot stays in place during sports and other activities. Tears can be minor, with the meniscus staying connected to the knee, or major, with the meniscus barely attached to the knee by a thread f cartilage.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

Symmptoms of a torn meniscus may be different for each person. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain, especially when holding the knee straight

  • Swelling and stiffness

  • Knee may click or lock

  • Knee may feel weak

The symptoms of a torn meniscus are similar to other medical conditions or problems. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is torn meniscus diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a torn meniscus may include the following:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease in a surrounding ligament or muscle.

  • Arthroscopy. A minimally-invasive diagnostic and treatment procedure used for conditions of a joint. This procedure uses a small, lighted, optic tube (arthroscope) that is inserted into the joint through a small incision in the joint. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen; used to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joint; to detect bone diseases and tumors; to determine the cause of bone pain and inflammation.

Arthroscopic meniscus repair
Click image to enlarge

Treatment for a torn meniscus

Specific treatment for a torn meniscus will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • How bad your injury is

  • How well you can tolerate specific medications, procedures, and therapies

  • The length of time it will take to heal

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Icing

  • Medication, such as ibuprofen

  • Muscle-strengthening exercises

  • Arthroscopic surgery

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