A meniscal tear is a partial or full tear in the cartilage of the knee.
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Most tears are caused by trauma. They may also be caused by the aging process.
A torn meniscus is more common in men. A tear caused by trauma is more common in active people under 40 years of age. Sports that require pivoting raise the risk of this injury. Examples are basketball, soccer, and football.
Tears caused by aging are more common in people over 40 years of age.
Symptoms may be:
- Pain and swelling in the knee
- Locking up, catching, or giving way of the knee
- A popping sound at the time of the injury
- Tenderness in the joint
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on your knee. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
Images may be taken to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done with:
The goal is to ease pain and improve movement. This may be done with:
- Ice and rest to ease pain and swelling
- A knee brace to keep the knee from moving
- Crutches to keep weight off the knee
- Medicine to ease pain and swelling
- Exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee
Surgery may be done if other methods have not helped. The damaged meniscus may be repaired or removed.
The risk of injury may be lowered by:
- Strengthening the muscles around the knee
- Using the right techniques when playing sports
- Increasing activity levels slowly
Howell R, Kumar NS, et al. Degenerative meniscus: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment options. World J Orthop. 2014 Nov 18;5(5):597-602.
Knee sprains and meniscal tears. Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/fractures_dislocations_and_sprains/knee_sprains_and_meniscal_injuries.html. Updated August 2019. Accessed March 26, 2020.
Meniscal tears. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/meniscus-tears. Updated March 2014. Accessed March 26, 2020.
Meniscus tears. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/meniscus-tears. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2020.
Last reviewed February 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 3/26/2020