A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting your full weight on it, can lead to a meniscus tear.
Causes of meniscus tear
A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, such as aggressive pivoting or sudden stops and turns. Even kneeling, deep squatting or lifting something heavy can sometimes lead to a torn meniscus.
If you’ve torn your meniscus, you might have the following signs and symptoms in your knee:
- A popping sensation
- Swelling or stiffness
- Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee
- Difficulty straightening your knee fully
- Feeling of your knee giving way
Facts and myths of meniscus tear
The University of Washington School of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine list some common myths and facts.
Some people think that only athletes can tear a meniscus. This is not true. Even people who do not consider themselves “athletes” can tear a meniscus. Some menisci (plural) tear during activities of daily living such as getting in and out of a car or squatting. Menisci also tear during participation in recreational activities such as skiing, dancing, or racquetball.
Meniscus tear diagnosis
A torn meniscus is identified during a physical exam. Your doctor might move your knee and leg into different positions, watch you walk, and ask you to squat to help pinpoint the cause of your signs and symptoms.
- MRI. Uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of both hard and soft tissues within your knee. It’s the best imaging study to detect a torn meniscus.
In some cases, your doctor might use an instrument known as an arthroscope to examine the inside of your knee. The arthroscope is inserted through a tiny incision near your knee.
The device contains a light and a small camera, which transmits an enlarged image of the inside of your knee onto a monitor. Surgical instruments can be inserted through the arthroscope to repair the tear.
Treatment for a torn meniscus often begins conservatively, depending on the type, size and location of your tear.
Tears associated with arthritis often improve over time with the treatment of arthritis. Many other tears that aren’t associated with locking or a block to knee motion will become less painful over time. They don’t require surgery.
Your doctor might recommend:
- Rest. Avoid activities that aggravate your knee pain, especially any activity that causes you to twist, rotate or pivot your knee. If your pain is severe, using crutches can take pressure off your knee and promote healing.
- Ice. Ice can reduce knee pain and swelling. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice cubes for about 15 minutes at a time, keeping your knee elevated. Do this every four to six hours the first day or two, and then as often as needed.
- Medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers also can help ease knee pain.
Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles around your knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint.
If your knee remains painful despite rehabilitative therapy or if your knee locks, your doctor might recommend surgery. It’s sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus, especially in children and young adults.
If the tear can’t be repaired, it could be surgically trimmed through tiny incisions using an arthroscope. After surgery, you will need to do exercises to increase and maintain knee strength and stability.
According to Harvard Medical School, it’s hard to prevent accidental knee injuries, you may be able to reduce your risks by:
- Warming up and stretching before participating in athletic activities
- Exercising to strengthen the muscles around your knee
- Avoiding sudden increases in the intensity of your training program
- Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes that fit your feet and your sport
- Wearing appropriate protective gear during activities, including athletic activities, in which knee injuries are common (especially if you’ve had knee injuries before).