What is a Meniscus Tear?
Meniscus tears commonly occur when the knee is suddenly twisted or turned while bent and the foot is planted on the ground. Tears may also happen when kneeling, squatting, or lifting something heavy. The normal wear-and-tear of aging on cartilage may also make it easier for the menisci to tear.
Meniscus tears are categorized into three groups: minor, moderate, and severe.
Meniscus tears at a glance:
- A meniscus is a c-shaped disc of cartilage located between the bones of the knee joint. There are two menisci that help distribute body weight evenly across the knee.
- General symptoms of a meniscus tear include pain, swelling, difficulty straightening the knee, and a popping sensation.
- Initial treatment for a meniscus tear includes the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured knee.
- In more severe tears, knee surgery may be necessary to restore knee function.
Symptoms of Meniscus Tears
Symptoms of a meniscus tear depend on the severity of the injury. The symptoms of a minor tear are mild pain and swelling.
A moderate tear may develop more swelling over the course of a few days, and sharp pain may occur when squatting or twisting the knee. In a moderate tear, the pain is typically felt on the side or the center of the knee and may come and go on its own for years if the tear is not properly treated.
After a severe tear, pieces of the torn disc interfere with joint function, causing the knee to catch, pop, lock, or be difficult to straighten. In addition to swelling and stiffness, the knee may feel unstable or give way unexpectedly.
Treatment of Meniscus Tears
Treatment for meniscus tears should include rest, ice, compression of the knee with an elastic bandage, and elevation of the affected leg. Physical therapy exercises may also be helpful or necessary to regain function.
Treatment options for more severe tears may depend on the location of the tear and the age of the injured person. Large tears near the outside of the knee may improve with surgery.
Surgery may be less effective at repairing large tears near the center of the knee, but for a younger person, the benefit of restoring the knee’s function may make surgery a worthwhile option.