Our knee joint is cushioned by a C-shaped cartilage known as the meniscus, with each knee containing two menisci - one on the medial side and one on the lateral side.
Acting as shock absorbers, these menisci protect the joint from wear and tear while evenly distributing weight and stabilizing the joint.
Meniscus tears arise from injury or tearing of one of these cartilage pieces due to sudden twists, impacts, or forceful knee rotation while the foot remains planted. Such injuries frequently occur during contact sports, including basketball and football.
Daily actions such as kneeling, squatting or lifting heavy things may also result in a meniscus tear due to age and wear and tear.
Depending on the severity and location of the tear, symptoms of a meniscus tear may vary from individual to individual.
Common symptoms include:
- Pain in the knee, especially when bearing weight or bending the knee.
- A popping or clicking sensation at the time of injury.
- Swelling and stiffness in the knee joint.
- Difficulty straightening the knee or feeling as if the knee is locked in place.
- Feeling of instability – a feeling of the knee ‘giving way’
- Limited range of motion in the knee.
- The risk of a tear increases when the meniscus becomes more brittle and less flexible with age.
- Men are at a higher risk compared to women.
- Meniscus tears are more common among people who are active in sports that involve frequent start-stop movements, pivoting or twisting such as basketball, netball, tennis, among others.
- You may be at higher risk for a meniscus tear if you have had a previous knee injury, such as an ACL tear.
- Excess weight in people who are overweight can place additional stress on the knee joint, increasing the risk of injury.
- Jobs that require repetitive squatting or kneeling can increase the risk of a meniscus tear over time.
Your doctor would first question your general health and symptoms before conducting a thorough physical examination.
Diagnosis is made based on your reported symptoms, physical examination, and investigations.
In order to assess your knee’s range of movement, your doctor may conduct special tests that involve bending, straightening, and rotating your knee to determine if you have a meniscus tear.
Imaging tests such as X-ray and MRI may also be done to evaluate the extent of injury and rule out other causes of knee pain.
If the tests above are unable to determine the cause of your knee pain, a minimally invasive procedure or keyhole surgery known as an arthroscopy may be performed. This technique involves making small incisions that allow the doctor to insert a tiny camera to get a clearer view of the injury.
In cases of mild to moderate meniscus tears, the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (R.I.C.E.) therapy will be advised:
- Rest: Take a break from the activity that caused the injury to reduce pain and swelling.
- Ice: Use cold packs on the injury for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression: Wear an elastic compression bandage to prevent additional swelling.
- Elevation: Recline when you rest and put your leg up higher than your heart to reduce swelling.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
If surgery is needed to repair or remove pieces of the torn meniscus in severe injuries, this is usually done by arthroscopy (keyhole surgery).
Gleneagles Hospital works with orthopaedic specialists to assist patients through diagnosis and treatment. The caring and multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals are available for consultation and to provide the best care.