Causes, Symptoms, and the Diagnosis of Meniscus Tears

The C-shaped cartilages within your knee joints are known as Menisci (Meniscus – singular). These cartilages sit between your shin and thigh bones, within the knee joint. The knee is the largest joint in your body. Since the knee joint helps in almost all the movements you make, whether it is climbing, running, bending or walking, it needs adequate protection. Unfortunately, the knee joint sometimes faces so much strain that the meniscus tears:

In this article, Jonathan Cluett, MD, gives an overview of menisci tears, the symptoms to look out for, and what you should expect when you visit a doctor.  

How Knee Cartilage Injuries Occur

The meniscus is a type of C-shaped cartilage that sits within your knee joint between your thigh bone and shin bone. Each knee joint has two menisci—one on the outside of the knee (called the lateral menisci) and one on the inside of the knee (called the medial menisci).

The medial and lateral menisci act as shock-absorbers and also provide cushioning and stability to the knee, which is why any tear or damage to a meniscus results in pain, swelling, and sometimes, a feeling that the knee is giving out. Read more here

Damage to the menisci can occur at any given time, especially if you are involved in strenuous activities that can easily result in you twisting your knees. For example, if you are actively engaged in sports, such as football, baseball, basketball, wrestling or skiing, you run the risk of tearing the menisci. Age and dramatic weight gain also weakens your menisci. Simple everyday movements like standing and sitting can easily cause your cartilages to tear.

In the following Wikipedia article, menisci tears are discussed in detail, including the signs, risk factors, and care.

Common Symptoms of Menisci Tears

A tear of a meniscus is a rupturing of one or more of the fibrocartilage strips in the knee called menisci. When doctors and patients refer to “torn cartilage” in the knee, they actually may be referring to an injury to a meniscus at the top of one of the tibiae Menisci can be torn during innocuous activities such as walking or squatting. They can also be torn by traumatic force encountered in sports or other forms of physical exertion. Read more here

When the menisci tear, whether it is at the front, middle or back of the knee, you are likely to experience intense pain. Sometimes, the pain is bearable, so you may still walk or even continue playing your favorite sport. However, you’ll gradually experience discomfort, and your knee will start swelling. You’ll also have a difficult time bending and stretching your leg. Over time, your knee will lose its stability. The symptoms are more intense if you are overweight.

In the following article, Rachel Nall and  Cindie Slightham, discuss some of the steps taken by doctors to analyze the extent of the tear before recommending the best treatment.

Physical Exams to Confirm Menisci Tears

The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that provides a cushion between your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). There are two menisci in each knee joint. They can be damaged or torn during activities that put pressure on or rotate the knee joint. Taking a hard tackle on the football field or a sudden pivot on the basketball court can result in a meniscus tear. Read more here

After discussing the symptoms with your doctor, he or she will need to carry out various tests to confirm you have menisci tears, and where they are located. You may need to take imaging tests that may include an x-ray, MRI, ultrasound, and arthroscopy. Some tests are more accurate than others. For example, the x-ray will not show menisci tears, but it will rule out other possible causes of knee pain.