Key Points about Meniscus Tear or Strain

  • The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that can become torn or strained from an abrupt movement that stresses the knee.
  • Many cases of a torn or strained meniscus result from playing sports or engaging in other forms of physical activity.
  • The main sign of a torn or strained meniscus is knee pain, that may be accompanied by a feeling of stiffness, swelling and trouble walking or bending the leg.
  • Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a torn meniscus, or if your knee pain inhibits your ability to walk without pain.
Common related conditions
Knee Arthritis Knee Strain or Sprain Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Thigh or Calf Strain or Sprain

Overview

The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that cushions the area where the shinbone and thighbone meet. There are two menisci in each knee. The menisci can be torn or strained by any rotation or twisting motion that puts stress on the knee.

A torn or strained meniscus is generally treated with rest, ice, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines and physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to repair a torn meniscus.

Meniscus tear or strain causes

The menisci can become torn or strained from activities that put sudden stress on the knee. Motions that can tear or strain a meniscus may include:

  • Pivoting
  • Twisting
  • Rotating
  • Kneeling or squatting

Meniscus tear or strain risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of tearing or straining a meniscus if you:

  • Play sports that involve physical contact, such as soccer or football
  • Are older, as knees weaken and accumulate damage with age

Meniscus tear or strain symptoms

The main symptom a meniscus tear or strain is pain in the knee, which may be accompanied by:

  • Swelling
  • A feeling of stiffness
  • Trouble walking
  • Trouble bending or straightening the leg
  • Hearing a “pop” at the time of the injury

Meniscus tear or strain complications

In addition to causing pain that may limit your activities, a torn meniscus may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis in the future, in the affected knee.

Meniscus tear or strain diagnosis

When diagnosing a torn or strained meniscus, your doctor will perform a physical examination and may ask you to walk and move the leg in various positions to assess which movements cause pain.

Your doctor may also order an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to view the soft tissues in the knee. When indicated, your doctor may order an X-ray to rule out other issues or conditions.

Meniscus tear or strain treatment

The first line of treatment for a torn or strained meniscus involves:

  • Resting the knees and avoiding activities that cause pain
  • Icing the affected knee
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, as necessary
  • Practicing physical therapy

Next Steps

Your doctor will work with you to set up the best treatment plan for a torn or strained meniscus.