When your meniscus is healthy, it acts to absorb shock and provides a smooth surface for your knee to glide on. When you have a meniscal tear, also known as a torn meniscus, it prevents your knee from rotating, which causes pain and locking. These injuries are fairly common, particularly among athletes.
On both sides of the joint, between the cartilage femur and tibia surfaces, are the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus. The menisci act to absorb shock and work with the cartilage to reduce stresses between the tibia and the femur.
How does a meniscal tear feel?
A meniscal tear can feel unstable and swollen, and sometimes stuck. Other times it may just hurt on the sides or back of the knee, especially with squatting and twisting.
How does a torn meniscus happen?
The meniscus can tear with a twisting injury. However, in patients over 40 it can sometimes tear without any specific trauma.
How can a torn meniscus be fixed?
When the meniscus (the cushion) tears within the knee, you can often help it to quiet down with time, anti-inflammatory medication or a cortisone injection, and physical therapy. However, if symptoms such as pain, swelling and instability persist, I recommend arthroscopic meniscectomy. This is a clipping or smoothing of flaps of unstable meniscal cartilage within the knee. In a knee arthroscopy, I make two small incisions. Using an arthroscope (or scope), we pass through one of these incisions to expand the knee joint using saline solution. I can see inside the joint using the scope’s camera. Next, I insert a surgical instrument through the other incision to either trim away the torn piece of meniscus or repair of the meniscus using sutures.
The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes and is done under spinal anesthesia. Patients typically return to work within a few days and active sports in 4 to 8 weeks.
Learn more about meniscal tears on the HSS website.