A meniscal tear is a tear in the meniscus. The meniscus is cartilage, which acts as a shock-absorbing structure in the knee. There are 2 menisci in each knee, a medial one on the inside, and a lateral one on the outside.
There are different types of tears depending on the location and how they look. Treatment depends on the severity of the tear.
Most injuries to the meniscus are caused by trauma. This usually includes compression and twisting of the knee. Because the aging process tends to break down the inner tissues of the meniscus, minor trauma can injure the meniscus in an older adult.
Older adults and men are at increased risk. Factors that may increase your risk of:
- Occupations that involve kneeling and squatting
- Climbing stairs
- Previous knee injuries
- Participating in contact sports, such as soccer or rugby
- Poor techniques for jumping, landing, pivoting, and cutting
Symptoms may include:
- A popping sound at the time of the injury
- Pain and swelling in the knee
- Tightness in the knee
- Locking up, catching, or giving way of the knee
- Tenderness in the joint
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your knee may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depend on the severity of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
The knee will need time to heal. Supportive care may include:
- Rest—Activities may need to be restricted at first. Normal activities will be gradually resumed as the injury heals.
- Ice—Ice therapy may help relieve swelling. You may be advised to use heat as you begin to return to normal activities.
- Compression—Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
- Elevation—Keeping the knee elevated can help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up
- A knee brace to stabilize the knee
- Crutches to keep extra weight off of the leg
Over-the-counter or prescription medication may be advised to reduce pain.
A physical therapist will assess the knee. An exercise program will be created to help recovery and to stretch and strengthen the muscles.
To reduce your chances of a meniscal tears, take these steps:
- Maintain proper technique when exercising or playing sports.
- Wear appropriate footwear for your sport and playing surface.
- Strengthen both the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
- Consider wearing a knee brace for sports.
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Knee sprains and meniscal tears. Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/fractures_dislocations_and_sprains/knee_sprains_and_meniscal_injuries.html. Updated December 2014. Accessed March 9, 2015.
Meniscal tears. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00358. Updated March 2014. Accessed March 9, 2015.
Meniscal tears in athletes. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Available at: http://www.sportsmed.org/uploadedFiles/Content/Patient/Sports_Tips/ST%20Meniscal%20Tears%2008.pdf. Published 2008. Accessed March 9, 2015.
Meniscus tears. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 7, 2015. Accessed March 9, 2015.
Torn meniscus. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/orthopaedic_disorders/torn_meniscus_85,P00945. Accessed March 9, 2015.
04/24/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Snoeker BA, Bakker EW, et al. Risk factors for meniscal tears: a systematic review including meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013; 43(6):352-367.
Last reviewed March 2015 by Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.