Meniscal tears

A common injury to the knee cartilage that often happens during sports or because of age-related wear and tear.

About meniscal tears

The knee joint is cushioned by thick pads of rubbery cartilage called menisci. The meniscal cartilage can be torn in a number of ways such as a sharp twisting movement or a direct blow to the knee.

Meniscal tears can happen when playing sports that require sudden changes of direction, such as football, squash or skiing.

Your knee cartilage can also be damaged as a result of bone conditions such as arthritis.

Most meniscal tears that cause symptoms don’t heal by themselves and will need some form of treatment.

You’ll usually need to go to A&E with this kind of injury, and will likely be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for diagnosis and a treatment plan.

What is meniscal cartilage?

Meniscal cartilage provides cushioning and reduces friction in the joint. If the cartilage is torn, the jagged edges affects smooth movement in the joint, causing inflammation and trapped tissue.

Damaged cartilage can also lead to bone damage and arthritis as the knee bones catch against each other.

Symptoms of MCL injury

When the meniscus tears, you have the following symptoms:

  • pain in your knee – some people only have mild pain, and for others, the pain may come and go
  • swelling, usually several hours after the injury
  • feeling as though your knee is catching or locking, usually when your knee is bent
  • your knee feeling ‘loose’, as though it’s going to give way
  • being unable to bend and extend your knee fully
  • your knee may feel tender along the line of the joint

Diagnosis of a meniscal tear

Your consultant will ask you to describe your symptoms and will carry out physical tests to see how well your joint moves.

You may need an MRI scan to confirm whether the meniscus has torn.

Treatment of a meniscus tear

The treatment you’re offered will depend on where the tear is, how big it is, how severe your injury is and your age.

Self help

Initially, you can control your pain and swelling by resting, icing and elevating your knee. You can mange pain and swelling with over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines.

Physiotherapy

If you have a minor tear in your cartilage, it is possible to strengthen the muscles around your knee to compensate for the damage and reduce the symptoms. Our team of physiotherapists may give you a programme of exercises to help your knee recover.

Surgery

Your consultant may recommend surgery for your torn meniscus if the symptoms have not improved with physiotherapy. Surgery may involve resection of the torn fragment or repair of the tear.

Meniscal repair is usually carried out through keyhole surgery (arthroscopy), using a small video camera and monitor and small surgical instruments.

Your surgeon might stitch the tear together, or smooth the jagged piece of cartilage by trimming or shaving the edges.

“I had a great experience at the Cromwell Hospital; the staff were amazing, and is another level of professionalism compared to other hospitals I’ve stayed in.”

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Published: 14 January 2020 | Review: 14 January 2023

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email info@cromwellhospital.com or telephone 020 7460 5901.