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Meniscus Tears

What is a meniscus?

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of shock-absorbing cartilage between the femur and the tibia in the knee. There is one on the medial side (side closest to the midline of the body) and one on the lateral side of each knee.

How do you tear the meniscus?

A meniscus tear is a common injury to the cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the knee joint. Typically an athlete or active individual tears a meniscus with a twisting injury. Younger athletes often suffer more significant injuries than do older adults. Often older athletes will note feeling pain after squatting to pick something up. Occasionally older patients do not remember a specific injury at all.

There are three types of meniscus tears. Each has its own set of symptoms:

Minor Tear - You may have slight pain and swelling. This usually goes away in 2 or 3 weeks.

Moderate Tear – Can cause pain at the side or center of your knee. Swelling slowly gets worse over 2 or 3 days. This may make your knee feel stiff and limit how you can bend your knee, but walking is usually possible. You might feel a sharp pain when you twist your knee or squat. These symptoms go away in 1 or 2 weeks but can come back if you twist or overuse your knee. The pain may come and go for years if the tear is not treated.

Severe Tears - Pieces of the torn meniscus can move into the joint space. This can make your knee catch, pop, or lock. You may not be able to straighten it. Your knee may feel “wobbly” or give way without warning. It may swell and become stiff right after the injury or within 2 or 3 days.

Treatment Options:

Your treatment choices are:

  • Nonsurgical treatment with rest, ice, compression, elevation, and physical therapy. This may include wearing a temporary knee brace.
  • Meniscus Repair Surgery to sew the tear together.
  • Partial Meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the torn section.
  • Total Meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire meniscus. This is generally avoided, because this option increases the risk for osteoarthritis in the knee.

Whenever possible, meniscus surgery is done using arthroscopy, rather than through a large cut in the knee.

Your doctor will likely suggest the treatment that he or she thinks will work best for you based on where the tear is, the pattern of the tear, and how big it is. Your age, your health, and your activity level may also affect your treatment options.