Injury Tip Sheet: Meniscus Tear

Injury Tip Sheet: Meniscus Tear

Learn what you need to know about Meniscus tears

Kathy Weber, M.D., M.S. Daphne R. Scott, PT, Dsc Chicago, IL

Fast facts

  • Can be seen in conjunction with ACL injuries
  • 60% of individuals who tear their ACLs have an associated meniscal tear.
  • Men are twice as likely to suffer a meniscus tear than women
  • Almost one-third of meniscus tears are sports-related

What You Need to Know

What is the meniscus?

  • The knee comprises a medial and lateral meniscus.  Each meniscus is a crescent moon shaped piece of cartilage.
  • The meniscus serves as a shock absorber, lubricates the knee so it can flex and bend, and stabilizes the knee when it moves
  • A twisting injury to the knee may result in a meniscus tear.

Signs & symptoms

  • Pain, tenderness, and/or swelling of the knee.  Typically the pain is located to the inner or outer joint line
  • Popping, painful clicking, or locking of the knee.
  • Symptoms may progressively worsen over a 24-72 hour time period after the injury.
  • Pain with pivoting, twisting or fully bending or straightening the knee

When should I see a medical professional?

  • Many individuals prefer to see a doctor at the onset of the pain or swelling to diagnose the injury quickly.  In many cases it can be treated without surgery.
  • You should see a physician if you are unable to bear weight on the extremity or if you are experiencing knee locking, swelling, or instability.
  • The sports medicine physician will perform a physical exam and if warranted radiographs and possibly an MRI will be ordered.
  • In some cases surgery is required.  Following surgery supervised physical therapy may be required.


  • Meniscus tears typically occur by twisting or turning the knee
  • The foot is often planted with the knee bent when the tear occurs
  • Degenerative meniscus tears occur in older individuals or in individuals with degenerative joint disease (i.e. osteoarthritis).  Degenerative changes in the meniscus may lead to a degenerative tear with little or no identifiable trauma.

Risk factors

  • Any sport with sudden stopping, twisting or turning, such as basketball or soccer places you at a higher risk for a meniscal tear

What You Can Do


  • Always ensure that your knee is properly warmed up and stretched prior to exercise
  • Wear appropriate footwear for the activity

Recommendations for treatment and rehab

  • Small tears can be treated at with anti-inflammatories, ice, compression, and physical therapy
  • Avoidance of deep squatting and twisting activities during the healing process.
  • If surgery is required to debride or repair the meniscal tear, physical therapy is often prescribed post operatively to ensure proper exercises are performed to optimize recovery.
  • It is important to re-introduce exercise slowly once your knee begins to heal so as not to risk a reinjury.

What can I do to stay active?

  • Low impact activities such as the elliptical trainer, swimming or biking.
  • Typically the individual can participate in sports that do not require pivoting, twisting or ballistic movement of the lower extremities.  If pain occurs in the affected knee with any activity that activity should be avoided until your physician clears you to resume that activity.

More information

For more information on the meniscus and common knee injuries, see the following articles: A Tour of Knee Anatomy Knee Injuries Unfolded


Griffin, Letha Yurko, Ed. Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care 3rd Edition. 2005; American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; pp532-537


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