What are meniscus and other cartilage tears?
The meniscus is one of the cartilages in the knee that provides cushioning and stabilisation. It’s also one of the most commonly injured parts of the knee. The other cartilage in the knee is the articular cartilage, and this can also be torn.
Meniscus tears are often caused by twisting/pivoting the knee joint during sport (especially football, netball, basketball, tennis, squash). But you can tear your meniscus without playing sport – it can tear from just getting up too quickly from the squatting position. Tears can also develop gradually as you age – these are called degenerative tears. Degenerative tears are common in the ageing knee and usually asymptomatic.
Articular cartilage tears can also occur during sport. But they tend to part of a more extensive injury, rather than happening on their own.
What are the symptoms of a meniscal tear?
When the tear occurs, you may feel a popping sensation. Other symptoms of a meniscal tear usually occur soon after the injury, although they can come on slowly if you have a degenerative tear. Symptoms include:
- pain, which may be worse when you straighten your leg
- swelling that occurs with a day or so of the injury and may last for months if you have a degenerative tear
- knee locking (due to a piece of broken off cartilage jamming up the joint) which prevents the leg being straightened
- a clicking or catching sensation in the knee while walking
Tears of the articular cartilage can cause similar symptoms. But as these tears tend to occur together with other knee injuries, you may mainly experience symptoms of these other injuries.
What does your doctor look for?
Your doctor will take your medical history (eg how the injury occurred) and perform a physical examination that will include an assessment of how your knee moves and functions.
What investigations are needed?
It’s usually possible to diagnose a meniscus or articular cartilage tear based on your medical history and knee examination. But sometimes your doctor will request an X-ray to rule out fractures and other damage, or an MRI for a detailed assessment of the cartilage.
What is the treatment for a meniscus tear?
Straight after the injury, you need to rest your knee and to try keep it elevated. Icing it and/or using a compression bandage can help. You may also need pain relief medication.
After the initial injury, if pain and mobility issues persist, further treatment might be needed. The size and location of the tear determines which treatments are most appropriate. Treatment options include:
- non-drug therapy (eg physiotherapy, stretching exercises, learning what activities to avoid)
- medications (eg anti-inflammatories)
- surgery (eg arthroscopic repair or removal of damaged cartilage)<<link to treatment meniscal tear>>
Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.