Meniscal Tear | Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine | Dartmouth-Hitchcock
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Meniscal Tear

Alternative name: Torn meniscus

What is a meniscal tear?

The meniscus is one of the the shock-absorbing cartilages of the knee. The cartilage covers the ends of the bones and prevents them from damaging each other when they come in contact. A tear in the meniscus is known as a meniscal tear.

What are the signs of a meniscal tear?

A patient might hear a pop at the time of injury. Some tenderness in the joint might be felt, which is often experienced in the space between the bones. It becomes worse if gentle pressure is applied. The patient's knee may catch repeatedly, and might sometimes lock.

What causes a meniscal tear?

The meniscus can become torn through a twisting motion, or through the leg being over-straightened. Skiing or playing football, or tripping over a footstool, could cause a meniscal tear.

How does a doctor tell if a patient has a meniscal tear?

A doctor will perform a physical examination of the knee to see if:

  • There is pain in the joint when moved certain ways
  • There is fluid in the joint that causes swelling

The doctor may also order an X-ray or MRI to confirm that it is the meniscus that is torn.

How is a meniscal tear treated?

Non-surgical treatments

The goal of treatment is to minimize the symptoms and protect the joint from being injured again while it heals.

Full weight bearing is discouraged (the person may need to use crutches). A knee immobilizer is often applied to prevent further injury to the joint. Ice is applied to reduce swelling, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are given to reduce swelling and pain.

Physical activity is allowed – as tolerated. Physical therapy should be involved to help regain joint and leg strength.

Surgical treatments

If the injury is acute, and/or you have a high activity level, knee arthroscopy (surgery) may be necessary. Age has an effect on treatment. Younger patients are more likely to have problems without surgery.

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