Meniscal Tear

Make an Appointment

A meniscal tear is a tear in the meniscus. The meniscus is cartilage, which acts as a shock-absorbing structure in the knee. There are two menisci in each knee, a medial one on the inside, and a lateral one on the outside.

There are different types of tears depending on the location and how they look. Treatment depends on the severity of the tear.

What Causes Your Meniscus to Tear?

Most injuries to the meniscus are caused by trauma. This usually includes compression and twisting of the knee. Because aging tends to break down the inner tissues of the meniscus, minor trauma can injure the meniscus in an older person.

meniscal tear diagram
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk of Developing Meniscal Tears

Factors that may increase your risk of a meniscal tear include:

  • Participating in contact sports
  • Improper techniques for jumping, landing, pivoting, and cutting
  • Increasing age
  • Previous knee injuries
  • Obesity

Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus

Symptoms may include:

  • A popping sound at the time of the injury
  • Pain and swelling in the knee
  • Tightness in the knee
  • Locking up, catching, or giving way of the knee
  • Tenderness in the joint

Diagnosing Meniscal Tears

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • X-ray
  • MRI —To get images of the internal structure of the knee.
  • Arthroscopy — A thin, lighted tube inserted through a small incision in the knee to look at the structures inside the knee. With the arthroscope, the tear will be seen and may be removed or repaired as necessary.

Meniscal Tear Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depend on the severity of your injury. 

Supportive Care

The knee will need time to heal. Supportive care may include:

  • Rest — You may need to restrict activities at first. Gradually resume activities as the injury heals.
  • Ice — Ice therapy may help relieve swelling. Your doctor may advise you to use heat as you begin to resume normal activities.
  • Compression — Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
  • Elevation — Elevate the knee to help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up.

Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medication to reduce pain. Additionally, a knee brace can stabilize the knee and crutches can help keep extra weight off the leg. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists assess the knee and may create an exercise program to help recovery and to stretch and strengthen the muscles.


Your doctor may repair or remove all or part of the damaged meniscus. This is usually done through small incisions in the skin. 

Preventing Meniscal Tears

To reduce your chances of a meniscal tears, take these steps:

  • Maintain proper technique when exercising or playing sports.
  • Wear appropriate footwear for your sport and playing surface.
  • Strengthen both the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
  • Consider wearing a knee brace for sports.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.