The menisci are c-shaped structures which protect and stabilise each knee. A meniscus tear is a common injury and can affect people of all ages.
What is meniscus tear?
Each knee has two menisci – one on the outside, and one on the inside of the knee.
Younger people have tough and rubbery menisci but can tear when twisted (an acute injury).
Older people have less elastic menisci which can be torn during milder activity and through overuse of your knee joint over time (known as a degenerative tear).
What are the symptoms of meniscus tear?
Symptoms of a meniscus tear are:
- A popping sensation
- Swelling or stiffness
- A sharp pain when twisting the knee
- In some instances, pieces of meniscus can become caught in the knee joint. This can stop the leg from straightening fully
- Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it
- Feeling of your knee giving way
What causes meniscus tear?
The following are risk factors for a degenerative meniscus tear:
- Being over 35– as you age, you amass wear and tear on the knee, and a decreased blood supply means small tears are more difficult to repair
- Knee joint overuse – through milder activity that stress your knee joint such as kneeling, squatting and lifting a heavy item
- Being overweight – puts extra pressure on your knee
- Poor cardiovascular health– good cardiovascular health is important for general health and helps you to carry out daily activities
- Being inactive– reduced range of movement can limit can impact how load is transferred through your knee
The following are risk factors for an acute meniscus tear:
- Being under 35 – younger people usually experience an acute tear
- Extreme twisting and rotating of the knee – through playing certain sports such as football, tennis and basketball
- Combination of bending, rotating and sudden kicking – through martial arts
How is meniscus tear diagnosed?
People experience meniscus tears differently. Knowing where and how a meniscus was torn helps your doctor recommend the best treatment.
Your doctor will carry out a physical assessment on your knee to look for problems in movement. They will also ask you which activities you were doing when you started to feel pain in your knee, and whether you have any prior injuries, alongside any physical labour and exercise you do.
If your doctor suspects you have a meniscal tear, they may take an MRI scan to help them see the extent of the tear and whether the torn meniscus has moved to the joint. If the joint is damaged and locked, they may recommend surgery.
How is meniscus tear treated?
In the first instance of a meniscus tear, your doctor will recommend:
- Anti-inflammatory medications and ice packs to reduce the pain and swelling
- Physical therapy (to strengthen your knee joint, you meet with a physical therapist to learn some gentle movement exercises, and then continue with these at home)
- A diet to help lose weight, if overweight
- Rest so you can heal
If your knee is locked, you might need surgery to repair or remove the portion of the meniscus caught in the knee joint. Here, keyhole surgery is performed on the knee using the arthroscope (a small camera.) This is passed into the joint so that the surgeon can repair or remove the torn part of meniscus.
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.