Updated August 2023

Meniscus Tear Knee Injury

The menisci are cartilages in the knee that protect the joint from stresses of activity. Pivoting actions that cause the knee to twist pose a risk for meniscus tears. The injury is common among tennis players. However, it can also result from deep knee bending, squatting or lifting a heavy object.

Man with a torn meniscus at the hospital.
A torn meniscus can be both painful and difficult to recover from.

If you have torn a meniscus, you may remember the moment of injury. There may have been a popping sound and immediate onset of pain, followed by swelling or stiffness, and difficulty moving or fully straightening your knee. Knee instability and persistent knee pain may also result. If, after a physical examination, your physician suspects a torn meniscus, he or she may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for Meniscus Tear Knee Injury

Treatment of a torn meniscus depends on the severity and location of the tear. If your physician has suggested physical rehabilitation, your meniscus tear may be small or located on the outer edge of the cartilage where there is a good blood supply to the injured area. Nonsurgical interventions include

  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), if your physician prescribes, to provide pain relief and reduce swelling
  • therapeutic exercises to strengthen muscles around the knee and in your legs that will provide stability and increase support to the knee joint
Illustration of a torn meniscus
Illustration of a torn meniscus

We may also suggest shoe orthotics for your footwear. This helps distribute force more evenly around the knee and decrease excessive stress to certain parts of the joint. And because excessive body weight can aggravate a knee injury, we can also design a weight reduction diet for you, if needed.

In some cases, the meniscus tear may be too severe for conservative treatment. In those cases, surgery may be recommended to either repair the tear or remove the damaged cartilage. A rehabilitation program followed for four to six weeks can promote healing and strengthen the knee, protecting against future injury. A return to normal activity depends upon your willingness to work hard for your healing. You also have to continue that work after your formal therapy has been completed.

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