What is a torn meniscus?
A meniscal tear is a common knee injury affecting the rubbery, crescent-shaped meniscus that acts as a cushion between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). Each knee has two menisci, one on the inner (medial) side and one on the outer (lateral) side. The menisci help distribute body weight across the knee joint, provide shock absorption, and improve joint stability. Meniscal tears can range from minor to severe and may cause pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.
Diagram illustrating the anatomy of the medial and lateral meniscus
Risk factors for meniscal injuries
Several factors increase the risk of meniscal tears, including:
- Older adults have a higher risk due to age-related degeneration of the meniscus.
- Participation in sports that involve sudden twisting, pivoting, or direct impact to the knee, such as soccer, basketball, and football.
- Repetitive kneeling, squatting, or lifting heavy objects.
- A history of knee injuries can weaken the meniscus and predispose it to tearing.
Symptoms of a torn meniscus
The symptoms of a meniscal tear may include:
- Pain, particularly when twisting or rotating the knee.
- Swelling and stiffness, usually within 24-48 hours of the injury.
- Limited range of motion of the knee.
- A "locking" or "catching" sensation in the knee.
- A feeling of instability or "giving way" when weight bearing on the affected leg.
Diagnosis of a torn meniscus
Diagnosis of a meniscal tear typically involves a combination of methods to ensure accurate assessment of the injury. During a physical examination, a healthcare provider will evaluate the knee for swelling, tenderness, and range of motion. The McMurray test is another diagnostic tool used by doctors to determine the presence of a meniscal tear; the doctor will bend and straighten the knee while applying pressure to identify any clicking or grinding sensations. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be employed to rule out other knee conditions, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide a detailed view of the meniscus and surrounding structures, further assisting in the diagnosis process.
Diagram illustrating the different types of meniscal tears
Management of a torn meniscus
Treatment for a meniscal tear depends on the severity, location, and the patient's overall health. Management options will range from conservative measures (non-surgical) through to surgery.
- Non-surgical treatments: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) can help improve pain and swelling in the acute setting. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed for pain relief. Physical therapy can help improve range of motion and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
- Surgical treatments: Arthroscopic surgery may be performed to repair or trim the torn meniscus. In some cases, partial or total removal of the meniscus may be necessary if the damage is severe.
I’m available to help and treat patients with meniscal tears and knee injuries. If you would like further advice and assistance in management, please contact us and book an appointment to discuss this further.