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Meniscus Tear

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a tear in the cartilage of your knee. The meniscus is a piece of cartilage (strong tissue) between your thighbone and shinbone. The meniscus helps to cushion your knee joint and keep it stable.

What causes a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear can occur if you twist your knee. A meniscus tear can happen during sports that involve squatting and twisting the knee, such as football or basketball. Weak and thinned meniscus cartilage in older people can increase the risk for a meniscus tear.

What are the signs and symptoms of a meniscus tear?

  • A pop or tear when the injury happens
  • Pain and swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Popping, catching, or locking of your knee
  • Not being able to extend your knee fully

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your knee. Your provider may bend your knee and then straighten and rotate it. Your provider may also order x-rays and an MRI of your knee. An MRI takes pictures of your knee to show the meniscus tear. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tear show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a meniscus tear treated?

Treatment depends on the type of tear you have. Some types of meniscus tears can heal on their own. You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Rest your knee. Avoid activities that make the swelling or pain worse. You may need to avoid putting weight on your leg while you have pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you use crutches.
  • Apply ice on your knee for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Compress your knee with an elastic bandage, air cast, medical boot, or splint to reduce swelling. Ask your healthcare provider which compression device to use, and how tight it should be.
  • Elevate your knee above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your knee on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Surgery may be needed if your symptoms do not improve. Your healthcare provider may trim away or repair damaged tissue.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot move your knee at all.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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