Meniscus Tears

A meniscus tear occurs when there is a partial or full tear in one of the two menisci that are located within the knee joint.  A meniscus is a C-shaped disc composed of cartilage in the knee that balances body weight across the knee so that it is evenly distributed among the bones in your legs.  One meniscus is located along the inner edge of the knee (medial meniscus) and the other is located along the outer edge (lateral meniscus).  Meniscus tears are a very common knee injury.


What is a Meniscus Tear?

A meniscus tear occurs when there is a partial or full tear in one of the two menisci that are located within the knee joint.  A meniscus is a C-shaped disc composed of cartilage in the knee that balances body weight across the knee so that it is evenly distributed among the bones in your legs.  One meniscus is located along the inner edge of the knee (medial meniscus) and the other is located along the outer edge (lateral meniscus).  Meniscus tears are a very common knee injury.


What causes a Meniscus Tear?

A meniscus tear can be caused by an acute or traumatic injury to the knee, or can be caused by a degeneration of the cartilage as a person ages.   When the tear occurs from an acute injury, it is usually the result of the leg twisting or turning suddenly so that the knee bends while the foot remains planted on the ground.  Acute meniscus tears are often the result of athletic pursuits, and are more common in some sports than others.


What are the symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?

The most common symptoms of a meniscus tear are pain and swelling of the knee.  Those with a more severe meniscus tear may also experience limited motion in the knee joint, an inability to completely straighten the knee, or a popping or clicking sound heard when moving the knee.  Tenderness can also be felt where the tear is located in many cases.  Most patients with minor tears experience pain and swelling only that gradually diminish with rest.


How is a Meniscus Tear diagnosed?

A meniscus tear is diagnosed following an exam by a medical professional, as well as by performing specific tests.  The doctor will do a physical examination, checking the knee for swelling, tenderness, pain with movement, range of motion and stability.  Questions about what initially caused the pain or the activities the patient is involved in will also be asked.  An x-ray and/or MRI will be used to determine whether a meniscus tear has occurred, as well as the severity of the tear.  An x-ray is usually administered first to determine the cause of the pain.  An MRI gives a more in-depth view of the meniscus than an x-ray can and provides more information about the location of the tear and its severity.


When should I seek care for a Meniscus Tear?

If you experience pain or swelling in your knee that does not go away following a period of rest, ice or over-the-counter pain medication, it is best to have your knee evaluated by a medical professional.  There are many knee injuries that can occur, and determining the exact injury or cause of pain will be helpful in choosing the best treatment method to alleviate pain, restore motion and flexibility, and reduce the chance that further damage or re-injury will occur.


What will the treatment for a Meniscus Tear consist of?

The treatment for meniscus tears will vary depending on the extent and location of the tear, the cause of the tear (acute or degenerative), the age and activity level of the patient, and the level of pain and immobility caused by the injury.  The first course of treatment is usually the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation).  If the injury does not heal quickly or the tear is more severe, a physical therapy treatment plan or surgery will be recommended.  Not all meniscus tears will require surgery, and for those that do there are a number of surgical treatment options available.  When surgery is required, a rehabilitation program will be prescribed following the procedure to increase strength and mobility in the knee.


Which muscle groups/ joints are commonly affected from a Meniscus Tear?

The menisci (medial meniscus and lateral meniscus) are located within the knee joint.


What type of results should I expect from the treatment of a Meniscus Tear?

The extent to which the knee will heal and a patient will be able to resume previous activities following a meniscus tear will depend in part on how severe the tear is, where it is located, the patient’s age and physical condition, and whether surgery is warranted.  With a proper rehabilitation program, including physical therapy as well as home exercises, most patients should be able to regain the strength and flexibility needed to get back to pre-injury activities.  By making the knee stronger, the chance of further injury or degeneration in the joint is also reduced.

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