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What Is a Meniscus Tear?

Athletes are not the only ones who experience tears to ligaments or cartilage.

Many people suffer a meniscus tear at some point in their lives. Located in the knee, the meniscus is a piece of cartilage that serves as a buffer between your shin and thigh bones. It also helps to stabilize your knee joint.

If you suspect your meniscus is torn, see your doctor or make an appointment as soon as possible at UPMC Orthopedic Care.

Why Did My Meniscus Tear?

A torn meniscus is a common knee injury, and it can happen for a number of reasons. Most frequently, meniscus tears occur while playing sports or because of age.

In sports, an unexpected tackle or abrupt change of direction that forces your knee the wrong way can cause the meniscus to tear. These same movements off the field or court also can result in a torn meniscus.

And as we age, the meniscus becomes weak and thin. Simply moving or standing too quickly can result in a tear.

What Are the Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?

When the meniscus tears, it may sound like your knee joint “pops.” Here are some other symptoms that can indicate a torn meniscus:

  • Pain and swelling around the knee
  • The feeling that your knee “locks up”
  • Inability of the knee to support any weight
  • Inability to fully straighten your knee joint

Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the tear. In milder cases you might experience only slight swelling, while a more severe tear can cause the knee to lock up and result in a higher level of pain.

Treatment for a Meniscus Tear

Once a doctor determines your meniscus is torn, there are a number of treatment options available.

For a mild meniscus tear, the most common treatment is R.I.C.E. — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Avoid putting any weight on the knee, ice the area every few hours, and wrap and elevate the knee to reduce swelling. You can also take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen to help decrease pain and swelling.

Depending on how severe the tear is, a doctor may recommend physical therapy. The amount of time it takes to recover from a meniscus tear varies, but a typical recovery spans from one to three months.

Will I Need Surgery?

If more conservative approaches don’t work, you may have a severe meniscus tear that requires surgery. Your doctor will confirm there is a tear with an examination and MRI.

It is important to know that sometimes it is not possible to repair a torn meniscus. In some cases, the best option may be to remove the cartilage from around the knee joint to allow for proper healing.

A torn meniscus will not heal without proper treatment, which can lead to chronic knee pain and a higher risk for osteoarthritis. If you suspect your meniscus is torn, see your doctor or make an appointment as soon as possible at UPMC Orthopedic Care.