Meniscus tear

A meniscus tear is a common injury that damages the rubbery cushion of the knee joint. This tissue is made of two disks, which are called the medial meniscus and the lateral meniscus.

These crescent-shaped menisci (plural of meniscus) act as shock absorbers to evenly distribute weight across the knee. Meniscus tears often happen when the knee twists as the foot remains firmly planted on the ground. This type of injury often occurs during sports, such as tennis or skiing.

Tears can also occur from breakdown (degeneration) of the menisci. Degeneration is the weakening of tissue from the normal wear and tear of aging. In people older than 40, a tear may occur from an everyday movement, such as rising from a squatting position.

The main symptom of a meniscus tear is pain from swelling and damage to surrounding tissues. Pain at the inside of the knee can indicate a tear to the inner (medial) meniscus, while pain at the outer side of the affected knee may indicate a tear to the outer (lateral) meniscus.

Treatment focuses on symptom relief and therapy to help a person regain as much movement as possible. Treatment may include medication, cold, heat, compression bandages, and physical therapy. In some cases, surgery is needed. Recovery after surgery usually includes rest, ice, compression, elevation, and physical therapy.

Last Updated: September 22, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

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