The meniscus is a crescent-shaped piece of cartilage—firm but flexible connective tissue—that serves as a cushion between your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). Each knee joint has two menisci.
Meniscus tears often happen suddenly when there’s a forceful rotation of the knee, such as when twisting the upper leg and body while the foot stays in place—a common maneuver during certain sports that demand pivoting, such as football or tennis.
Tears can be minor, with the meniscus staying connected to the knee, or so severe that the meniscus remains attached to the knee by only a thread of cartilage.
The symptoms of a torn meniscus include knee pain as well as swelling, stiffness and difficulty extending the knee.
While a torn meniscus can happen to anyone, athletes are most at risk of having this type of injury.
Treatment includes rest, ice, pain relievers, and physical therapy to strengthen muscles surrounding the knee. If conservative measures don’t provide relief, arthroscopic (minimally invasive) surgery may be required to repair the injury. A knee replacement may be recommended in older individuals with advanced arthritis.
Because meniscus tears can look and feel like other types of knee injuries, it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate, timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat a Torn Meniscus
Cooper has a team of board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedic specialists as well as three sports medicine specialists—all with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating meniscus tears. You can count on us for:
- Fast access: Our policy is to see sports-related injuries within 24 to 48 hours
- Advanced expertise: As South Jersey’s only tertiary care facility, we see the region’s most complex cases—a level of expertise you simply won’t find anyplace else in this area
- Personalized treatment: Treatment is based on your age, general health, lifestyle, and severity of symptoms, with a focus on relieving pain and restoring mobility in the least invasive way possible
- Extensive physical rehabilitation resources: We have an entire team of skilled physical therapists to help you regain your strength and mobility after a meniscus tear
Causes and Risk Factors for a Torn Meniscus
Sports injuries are the most common cause of a torn meniscus, but anyone who performs activities that cause the knee to bend or twist more than normal is at risk for a torn meniscus. Risk factors include:
- Sports activities: Contact sports (like football) or activities that require pivoting (such as basketball or tennis). Dancers are also at higher risk.
- Age: Older adults are at higher risk due to age-related wear and tear that causes degeneration; there is often no specific incident that causes the injury
- Obesity: Carrying extra weight puts extra strain on all parts of the knee
- Previous knee injury: Trauma caused by another knee injury may increase the risk of a meniscus tear
Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus
While each person may experience symptoms differently, the most common symptoms of a meniscus tear include:
- Severe pain, especially when you hold the knee straight
- Weakness in the knee
- The knee joint may catch, click or lock
Treating a torn meniscus
Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the severity of your injury as well as your age, overall health, how well you tolerate certain medications or therapies, and your goals for recovery. Treatment may include:
- Rest, icing and elevating the affected leg
- Medication, such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain and inflammation
- Physical therapy that focuses on exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee and help stabilize the joint
- Surgery to repair the torn meniscus or, if advanced arthritis is a contributing factor, a knee replacement may be recommended