DefinitionA meniscal tear is a tear in the meniscus. The meniscus is cartilage, which acts as a shock-absorbing structure in the knee. There are two 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.
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CausesMost 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.
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your risk of:
- Degenerative tears:
- Increasing age, especially over 60 years old
- Male gender
- Occupations that involve kneeling and squatting
- Climbing stairs
- Previous knee injuries
- Acute tears:
- Participating in contact sports, such as soccer or rugby
- Poor techniques for jumping, landing, pivoting, and cutting
SymptomsSymptoms 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
DiagnosisYou 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:
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depend on the severity of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
Acute CareRestYour knee will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on the knee:
- Do not do activities that cause pain. This includes running, jumping, and weight lifting using the legs.
- Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
- Over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Prescription pain relievers
Recovery StepsPhysical TherapyYour doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. The therapist can help you control discomfort and regain function.HeatUse heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the knee joint.StretchingWhen the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.StrengtheningBegin strengthening exercises for your legs as recommended.
SurgeryRepair or removal of all or part of the damaged meniscus may by performed. This is usually done through small incisions of the skin. A camera and special tools are inserted through the incisions.
PreventionTo 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 Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
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%5Fpoisoning/fractures%5Fdislocations%5Fand%5Fsprains/knee%5Fsprains%5Fand%5Fmeniscal%5Finjuries.html. Updated August 2013. Accessed February 28, 2014.
Meniscal tears. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00358. Updated February 2009. Accessed February 28, 2014.
Meniscal tears in athletes. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Available at: http://www.sportsmed.org/uploadedFiles/Content/Patient/Sports%5FTips/ST%20Meniscal%20Tears%2008.pdf. Published 2008. Accessed February 28, 2014.
Meniscus tears. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 13, 2014. Accessed February 28, 2014
Torn meniscus. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/orthopaedic%5Fdisorders/torn%5Fmeniscus%5F85,P00945/. Accessed February 28, 2014.
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.
- Reviewer: Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
- Review Date: 02/2014
- Update Date: 04/24/2014