Meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at risk for meniscus tears. However, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus. When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.
Three bones meet to form your knee joint: your thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella). Two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage act as "shock absorbers" between your thighbone and shinbone. These are called meniscus. They are tough and rubbery to help cushion the joint and keep it stable.
Menisci tear in different ways. Tears are noted by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Common tears include bucket handle, flap, and radial. Sports-related meniscus tears often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.
What causes a meniscus tear?
Sudden meniscus tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist their knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved. Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscus tears. Cartilage weakens and thins over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear, if the menisci have weakened with age.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
You might feel a "pop" when you tear a meniscus. Most people can still walk on their injured knee. Many athletes keep playing with a tear. Over 2 to 3 days, your knee will gradually become more stiff and swollen.
The most common symptoms of meniscus tear are:
- Stiffness and swelling
- Catching or locking of your knee
- The sensation of your knee "giving way"
- You are not able to move your knee through its full range of motion
Without treatment, a piece of meniscus may come loose and drift into the joint. This can cause your knee to slip, pop, or lock.