What is a meniscus tear?
A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.
See a picture of the knee and the meniscus.
What causes a meniscus tear?
A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.
See a picture of common meniscus tears.
What are the symptoms?
There are three types of meniscus tears. Each has its own set of symptoms.
With a minor tear, you may have slight pain and swelling. This usually goes away in 2 or 3 weeks.
A moderate tear can cause pain at the side or center of your knee. Swelling slowly gets worse over 2 or 3 days. This may make your knee feel stiff and limit how you can bend your knee, but walking is usually possible. You might feel a sharp pain when you twist your knee or squat. These symptoms go away in 1 or 2 weeks but can come back if you twist or overuse your knee. The pain may come and go for years if the tear is not treated.
In severe tears, pieces of the torn meniscus can move into the joint space. This can make your knee catch, pop, or lock. You may not be able to straighten it. Your knee may feel "wobbly" or give way without warning. It may swell and become stiff right after the injury or within 2 or 3 days.
If you are older and your meniscus is worn, you may not know what you did to cause the tear. You may only remember feeling pain after you got up from a squatting position, for example. Pain and slight swelling are often the only symptoms.
How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about past injuries and what you were doing when your knee started to hurt. A physical exam will help your doctor find out if a torn meniscus is the cause of your pain. Your doctor will look at both knees and check for tenderness, range of motion, and how stable your knee is. X-rays are also usually done.
How is it treated?
How your doctor treats your meniscus tear depends on several things, such as the type of tear, where it is, and how serious it is. Your age and how active you are may also affect your treatment choices.
Treatment may include:
Small tears at the outer edge of the meniscus often heal with rest and physical therapy. Surgery is a good option for larger tears at the outer edge of the meniscus.
Surgery may not work as well with large tears near the center of the meniscus. But surgery to repair this kind of tear may be the right choice for young people, because it can help the knee work again. Older people may not get the same benefit from this surgery.
How long it takes to recover from surgery will depend on the type of surgery you have. Your recovery plan is likely to include rest, walking, and special exercises.
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