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Knee Cartilage Tears (Meniscal)

Definition:

Your knee has two types of cartilage: articular and meniscal. The menisci are cartilage tissue which act like shock absorbers in the knee joint. A meniscus can be torn, commonly after a forceful twisting injury to the knee.

Causes:

Sudden meniscal tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved.

Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscal tears. Cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears.

Symptoms:

The most common symptoms of meniscal tear are:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Catching or locking of your knee
  • The sensation of your knee “giving way”
  • Inability move your knee through its full range of motion

You might feel a “pop” when you tear a meniscus. Most people can still walk on their injured knee. Over several days, your knee will gradually become more stiff and swollen. Without treatment, a piece of meniscus may come loose and drift into the joint. This can cause your knee to slip, pop or lock.

Your doctor may perform a McMurray test. The doctor will bend your knee, then straighten and rotate it. If you have a meniscal tear, this movement will cause a clicking sound. X-ray or MRI imaging may be ordered to help confirm the tear.

Treatment:

While some meniscal tears can heal, surgery to fix, trim or remove the torn meniscus may be advised. The outside one-third of the meniscus has a rich blood supply, and tear in this area may heal on its own. If your symptoms do not persist and your knee is stable, rest, ice and therapy may be all you need. However, the inner two-thirds of the meniscus lacks a blood supply, so tears in this “white” zone cannot heal. Tears in this zone are usually surgically trimmed away.

After surgery, your doctor may put your knee in a wrap or brace. Rehabilitation therapy will then be needed to restore your knee mobility and strength. You will start with exercises to improve your range of motion. Strengthening exercises will gradually be added.