The meniscus is a small horseshoe-shaped rubbery pad of fibrocartilage and collagen. These pads inside the knee absorb the impact of motion. Each knee has two of these miniature shock absorbers: the lateral and medial meniscus. Injury to these protective pads results in a meniscus tear.

How do meniscus tears happen?

Athletic training or competition can exert a tremendous force on the menisci. Running, jumping, squatting, or twisting motions can intensify this pressure. During these high-pressure or fast-paced activities, sections of the menisci can tear or move out of place.

But anyone can tear their meniscus. People who dance, play tennis, snowshoe, or ski are vulnerable to injury. Sometimes getting into and out of a car or squatting is all it takes to create a tear.

Age and weight can also contribute to degenerative meniscus tears. Since the knee is a weight-bearing joint, a lifetime of bending and twisting wears down the small shock-absorber. Age combined with weight increases that pressure. Experts say each extra pound of weight applies an added four pounds of pressure on the knee. These factors make the knee more susceptible to a degenerative injury.

What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?

Pain, swelling, or stiffness on the sides of the knee are common symptoms. However, the pain level varies based on the severity of the injury. Some people experience mild pain associated with activity. Others experience severe pain that interferes with daily living. People also feel weakness and instability in the knee.

Seek medical attention if the knee locks. A torn meniscus blocking movement usually requires repair or removal.

How are meniscus tears treated?

According to OrthoInfo, blood does not flow to the entire meniscus. This limited blood supply means only one-third of the meniscus can heal itself. So, when a tear occurs in the inner area of the rubbery cushion, it often needs surgical repair.

Some meniscus tears heal with time and rest. Others require medical treatment that may include surgery, medications, splints, braces, or removal of excess fluid from the joint.

When untreated, meniscus tears can cause long-term pain and limit movement. They also increase the risk of arthritis and hamstring issues.

Ongoing knee pain may need medical treatment by an orthopedic specialist.

How long does it take for a meniscus tear to heal?

It depends on the location of the tear and the treatment needed. Sometimes, it takes four to six weeks before a person experiences relief during daily activities.

How can I reduce my risk of a meniscus tear?

No matter how many preventative measures people take, injuries can happen. But there are some actions people can take to avoid meniscus tears.

  • Exercise thigh and calf muscles. Strong and balanced leg muscles support knee movement. Ask a sports medicine specialist, certified-athletic trainer, or physical therapist for guidance. These specialists can design an exercise plan to keep leg muscles strong and flexible.
  • Include a warm-up and cool-down during each workout, training session, or competition.
  • If you’re overweight, lose weight. Reducing weight lessens the pressure on the knees.

If you experience joint pain, contact Bone & Joint and make an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist.