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Meniscus tear

Damage to the meniscal cartilage (meniscus) within the knee, causing pain and preventing your knee joint from flexing and moving freely.

What is a meniscus tear?

The meniscus is a thick pad of smooth cartilage in your knee which sits between the ends of your shin bone and thigh bone. There are two pads in each knee joint and their main functions are to:

  • Act as a shock absorber
  • Keep your knee stable
  • Help your knee glide smoothly

Meniscus cartilage is tough and elastic but can be torn or damaged through trauma or because it’s weakened with wear and tear as you age. A tear will almost always affect the function of your knee and your ability to continue with many activities until it recovers or is repaired.

There are two main causes:

  • Any sudden or forceful rotation or flexing of your knee can cause the meniscus to tear. This is common in younger people and athletes who are more active
  • In people aged 40–60 years, meniscus tears are most likely due to wear and tear and natural ageing of the cartilage

How to tell if you have a meniscus tear

The most common symptoms are:

  • Knee pain – particularly when twisting your knee or squatting, but may stop when resting
  • It may be across the middle of your knee, or your whole knee
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness or restricted movement
  • Difficulty fully straightening your leg
  • Popping sensation

Other symptoms include:

  • Sometimes your knee will ‘lock’ in place
  • Over time, a meniscus tear can lead to osteoarthritis

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for a meniscus tear

Your GP should be able to give you a diagnosis from a simple examination. They'll ask you if there's anything you may have done to cause a meniscus tear, such as a sports injury, and make a physical assessment of your knee.

They may also recommend that you go for an X-ray or MRI to rule out other conditions.

Common treatments for a meniscus tear

A torn meniscus will usually recover on its own, particularly in younger people. To allow this to happen you should:

  • Rest your knee
  • Use ice packs to reduce swelling
  • Use anti-inflammatory painkillers

Where a meniscus tear is caused by ageing, symptoms often come and go and your GP will usually advise you to rest your knee and use painkillers at these times.

Cartilage is a tough, protective material which is designed to protect bones for a lifetime. It doesn’t repair or regenerate itself easily so treatment is often about managing symptoms.

Surgery

Your doctor may recommend surgery if your knee is ‘locked’. This will be performed by arthroscopy, where your consultant uses telescopic instruments to look inside the knee and remove any meniscus cartilage that's preventing movement of your knee joint.

Sometimes, torn meniscus cartilage can be repaired using sutures or stitches to hold it together. Surgeons are also developing new techniques to transplant cartilage.