Meniscus Tear Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Knee pain
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A meniscus tear is one of the more common injuries of the knee. The meniscus is a fibrous cartilage tissue located in the knee joint that helps the knee function smoothly by providing cushion and shock absorption, protects the cartilage at the end of the femur and tibia bone, and also helps to stabilize the joint. You have two in each knee, medial and lateral meniscus.


The immediate symptoms of a meniscus tear may include pain in the knee at the joint line, popping and/or clicking sensation, stiffness, difficulty bending and straightening, and even knee instability. 

However, you may still be able to walk or even run. People who sustain these injuries during a game often continue playing. Over the next couple of days, you will have swelling, knee stiffness (especially after sitting), a tendency for your knee to get "stuck" or lock up, and difficulty bending and straightening that leg. You may also feel like your knee is giving way.


Meniscus tears can happen when a person changes direction suddenly while running. Degenerative meniscus tears can also occur with age. Although they're more common in athletes who play contact sports, meniscus tears can happen to runners.

In runners, the meniscus is often injured by a twisting motion or a blow to the side of the knee.

Older athletes are more at risk since the meniscus weakens with age. Runners more commonly injure the medial meniscus (central meniscus attached to the tibia or shinbone) rather than the lateral meniscus (on the side of the knee).


You should consider seeing your doctor if you're experiencing significant swelling that is persistent, or you find you can't move your knee through its usual range of motion, or locking sensations. Your doctor will examine your knee and see how it moves in different positions. You may have an X-ray or MRI to help determine the cause and rule out other problems.


Treatment for meniscus tears depends on the size and location of the tear. If your knee is not locking up, is stable, and the symptoms go away, you may not need surgery. Sometimes small tears heal on their own with the proper treatment.

Your doctor will prescribe rest (no impact activities) and icing your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Ice your knee for 15 to 20 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days or until the pain and swelling is gone. You can also follow the other steps in R.I.C.E. treatment by compressing your knee with an elastic bandage or a neoprene type sleeve on your knee to control swelling and elevating it with a pillow under your heel. You can also try the P.O.L.I.C.E. method to help get your knee back to its previous level of function.

Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and give you stretching and strengthening exercises to do.

If a tear is large, unstable, or causing locking symptoms, you may need surgery to either repair or remove unstable edges. The procedure is usually pretty simple, and you can often go home the same day. You may need some physical therapy and to wear a brace afterward for protection if surgery is done.


Make sure you're wearing the correct running shoes for your foot and running style, since wearing the wrong type of shoes may make you more prone to falling or twisting your knee. Do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support and stabilize the knee, so you can make your knees more injury-resistant.

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Article Sources
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  • Meniscus Tears. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  • Torn Meniscus. Mayo Clinic.