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The meniscus is a C-shaped cartilage cushion in your knee joint. You have two in each knee, one on each side. They are rubbery shock absorbers and help stabilize the knee. Cartilage weakens as we age, increasing our risk for a meniscus tear. Causes of meniscus tears include:
- Twisting or over-flexing your knee
- Turning or changing direction quickly while running
- Squatting low and lifting something heavy
- Hitting, or getting hit by, something on your knee, such as during a football tackle
Symptoms of a meniscus tear can include pain, stiffness, swelling and less range of motion. Your knee may also feel unstable, and catch or lock when you move.
Meniscus Tear Diagnosis
At University of Maryland Orthopaedics, our knees specialists will give you a physical exam and imaging tests to diagnose a meniscus tear.
The most common physical exam is the McMurray test, which uses pressure and rotation to diagnose a tear. Imaging tests of the knee include X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Meniscus Tear Treatment
Treatment for meniscus tears depends on the location and type injury. The outer part of the meniscus is thick and has a good blood supply that allows tears to heal naturally or with surgical repair. The inner meniscus has no blood supply and is very thin, so tears in this location rarely heal and surgical removal of the injured part is usually the best treatment.
Nonsurgical Treatment Options
You may not need surgery if your tear is small and your knee stable. To relieve pain and reduce swelling, resting and icing the knee can be helpful. If you are limping, using crutches to keep the weight off the leg is recommended. Compression with a knee sleeve or elastic wrap can minimize swelling.
A knee brace can help stabilize and support the knee. The brace may also allow you to be more active.
Physical therapy can be very effective for some meniscus tears. The goal of physical therapy is to reduce pain and swelling, restore range of motion and increase muscle strength.
Surgery For Meniscus Tears
When nonsurgical therapies don’t help or aren’t an option, surgery is the next step.
Minimally Invasive Techniques
There are two minimally invasive techniques to address the problem:
- Partial meniscectomy – We trim the damaged meniscus tissue. Recovery takes about six weeks.
- Meniscus repair – Some meniscus tears can be stitched back together. This depends on the kind of tear and the condition of the meniscus. Because the meniscus needs time to heal, recovery can take up to six months.
Surgery to replace a worn or damaged meniscus may stabilize the knee, relieve pain and slow arthritis. Learn more about meniscus transplant.