Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a disc that sits within the joint in the knee. It supports impact to the knee, acting as a shock absorber working together with the cartilage on the ends of the upper and lower leg bones. A torn meniscus restricts load-bearing activity.

Compassionate Healing Starts Here

As the referral center for Greater Cincinnati and the region, the Sports Medicine program provides top-quality care for even the most complex musculoskeletal conditions. We customize treatment plans that use the most innovative, effective surgical and nonsurgical techniques to restore function, relieve pain for professional athletes, high school sports teams and anyone who leads an active lifestyle.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Sports Medicine & Concussion team at 513-475-8690.


Understanding Meniscus Tear

What is a torn meniscus?

There are three bones in the knee. These are the femur, tibia, and patella. The ends of these bones are covered with cartilage. This is a smooth material that cushions the bone and allows the joint to move easily without pain. The cartilage acts as a shock absorber. Between the bones of the knees are two crescent-shaped discs of connective tissue, called menisci. These also act as shock absorbers to cushion the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body. Injury or aging can cause the meniscus to tear and lead to pain and problems using the knee. 

What causes a torn meniscus?

Meniscus tears can happen during a rotating movement while bearing weight, such as when twisting the upper leg while the foot stays in one place during sports and other activities. Tears can be minor, with the meniscus staying connected to the knee. Or they can be major, with the meniscus barely attached to the knee by a cartilage thread.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

Each person may have different symptoms. But the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain, especially when holding the knee straight.

  • Swelling and stiffness.

  • Knee may catch, click, or lock.

  • Knee may feel weak or unstable.

These symptoms may look like other health conditions or problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a torn meniscus diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. You may also need:

  • X-ray. This test uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • MRI. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. It can often find damage or disease in a surrounding ligament, tendon, bone, or muscle.

Arthroscopy. This is a minimally invasive procedure used for conditions of a joint. It uses a small, lighted, optic tube (arthroscope). The tube is inserted into the joint through a small incision in the joint. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen. They are used to evaluate any degenerative or arthritic changes in the joint. The procedure also may detect bone diseases and tumors, as well as determine the cause of bone pain and inflammation.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Icing.

  • Medicine to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, such as ibuprofen.

  • Muscle-strengthening exercises.

  • Arthroscopic surgery.

Treatment for meniscal tears

A tear is unlikely to heal on its own. You often will need surgery to repair or remove a tear. In many cases, your healthcare provider will first try treatments to help relieve symptoms. These may include:

  • Rest the knee. This means avoiding any activity that puts stress on the knee joint. These include kneeling, squatting, jogging, and climbing stairs. In some cases, you may need to use crutches for a time to keep body weight off of the knee joint.

  • Cold pack. Putting a cold pack on the knee helps reduce pain and swelling.

  • Knee brace. Bracing the knee helps support it.

  • Medicine. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines can help relieve swelling and pain.

  • Exercises. Exercises help strengthen the muscles of the leg to help support the knee joint.

If these treatments don’t help relieve symptoms or the injury is severe, you may need surgery. This can remove or repair the meniscus to relieve symptoms and restore movement.

What are the possible complications of a torn meniscus?

An untreated torn meniscus can result in instability of the knee and lasting pain. It can also increase your risk of osteoarthritis.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if your knee:

  • Locks or catches or makes a clicking, popping, or grinding sound.

  • Is painful and/or swollen.

  • Feels weak or buckles.

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