Torn Meniscus

What is a Torn Meniscus?

A torn meniscus occurs when the menisci in the knee joint are torn during activities. The meniscus is cartilage that acts as a cushion between the femur and the tibia. There are two in each knee joint.

Anyone can get a torn meniscus, even non-athletes. A torn meniscus can happen during a sporting activity or just getting up too fast from a squatting position.

What are the Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus?

The main sign of a torn meniscus is a popping sound around the joint in the knee followed by pain.

Other symptoms include:

  • It may become swollen and will likely be difficult to move.
  • It might feel like your knee has locked or that it is unable to support you.
  • A slipping or popping feeling is an indication that the knee joint is being blocked by a piece of cartilage that has become loose.

Torn Meniscus Causes

Many instances of torn meniscus are caused by sporting injuries. Forceful impacts on the side or front of the knee, which can force the joint to move to the side, could tear the meniscus. These could be sustained during tackles or collisions with others in contact sports such as hockey or football.

It’s also possible to tear the meniscus by over-rotating the knee when pivoting, a move which is particularly common in sports like basketball and soccer. Sometimes stepping or squatting rapidly on uneven surfaces can lead to tears because it can put disproportionate force on the knees. This might occur in sports such as cross-country running, or during training exercises such as football drills.

Meniscus tears can also occur as a result of joint degeneration. As we get older, the meniscus because less rubbery and less durable, which makes it more susceptible to tearing with relatively minor force or motion. Age-related degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis, can also contribute to weakness.

For some, weakness of the meniscus is caused by overuse of the knees. Certain occupations, such as gardening, plumbing or carpet installation, all of which require frequent squatting and kneeling, can strain the meniscus over many years and make it more susceptible to injury later in life.

How is a Torn Meniscus Treated?

The torn meniscus may be treated conservatively at first with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).  Crutches may be recommended to avoid putting weight on the knee and you will be told not to participate in activities that will likely make the pain worse. NSAIDs can be used to relieve the pain and swelling. Physical therapy and massage techniques can help get you mobile and make you more stable once you start to use your knee again. Recovery time can range from 1-3 months.

If conservative means of treatment are not enough, arthroscopic surgery may be another option recommended by your doctor. You will have to get blood tests, x-rays, an MRI, an EKG, and anesthesia clearance before your surgery and get your pain prescription filled. It is a quick procedure that involves trimming away the damaged meniscus and you’ll be able to go home on the same day.

Physical therapy will follow the surgery. Recovery takes about 6 weeks.

Torn Meniscus Prevention

For sports players and athletes who are at an increased risk of a torn meniscus, it may be possible to strengthen other muscles in the legs in order to minimize the risk of over-rotation or poor form which could cause the injury.

A physical therapist or sports therapist may be able to identify weak areas of the body which could increase the likelihood of a tear and prescribe strengthening exercises.

Those who work in occupations which require lots of squatting should try to avoid frequent up and down squatting motions as much as possible, as it is this that contributes to degeneration of the meniscus.

It also recommended that they avoid contact sports, cross country running or other activities which could cause maneuvers that often result in a torn meniscus, since they are already more vulnerable to them.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017