Meniscal tear

How is it caused?

Tears to the menisci are common among older people and athletes, and are often caused by sudden impacts or twists to the knee.

As we get older (generally over the age of 40) the menisci naturally start to degenerate, becoming weaker and less elastic; small tears, which sometimes become larger and more problematic, can be caused by repetitive stress (degenerative tear) on the meniscus rather than as a result of an accident (traumatic tear).

What are the symptoms?

  • Traumatic tears: if caused by a sudden impact or twist, you may feel a ‘pop’ when your meniscus is torn but you may still be able to walk on the affected leg. Pain and swelling will gradually increase over the next couple of days, and you may have the sensation of your leg ‘locking’ or ‘clicking’ with limited movement. You may also have difficulty straightening your knee
  • Degenerative tears (caused by wear and tear) may result in similar symptoms to a traumatic tear, although patients may experience pain without noticeable swelling or movement restrictions in the knee

How is it diagnosed?

A diagnosis made during a medical examination can be backed up with X-rays and an MRI scan to show the extent of the damage to the ligaments and menisci. An X-ray can also show degenerative changes within the joint such as osteoarthritis.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the patient, as well as the type, size and location of the tear.

Non-operative treatment: this includes management of swelling and pain around the knee along with advice on modifying certain sports and activities to protect the knee from further injury (for example, avoiding squatting). You will also be shown how to do exercises to help regain the flexibility and strength of the knee while the injured meniscus heals. Many people can live completely normal, active lives with a meniscal tear and surgery is usually recommended only if the tear is painful and/or limits the type of activities you can do.

Surgery: you may be offered a meniscus repair if you have a recent tear, especially if you also have an ACL injury; or a partial meniscectomy if you have continue to have unpleasant symptoms from the meniscus tear.

Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.