Meniscal Tears

What is a meniscal tear?

Meniscal tears are common knee injuries that occur in athletes who play contact sports. However, anyone at any age is susceptible to meniscal tears. A meniscal tear normally occurs when an athlete twists or turns their upper leg while their foot is planted and their knee is bent. The menisci are located between the lower leg bone (called the tibia) and the thigh bone (called the femur). The menisci are responsible for protecting the lower portion of the leg from the shock created by our body weight.

In some cases, the menisci may develop as a block or disk shape, called a discoid meniscus. Discoid meniscus tears are more likely to occur in childhood.

What are the causes of meniscal tears?

A meniscal tear may be a result of any activity that causes you to forcefully rotate or twist your knee. These activities may include aggressive pivoting and sudden stops, and immediate turns. Other activities like deep squatting, kneeling, and lifting heavy things may also lead to a meniscal tear. Degenerative changes of the knee in older adults may also contribute to meniscal tears with little or no trauma. Other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, may cause a meniscal tear.

What are the prevalent signs of a meniscus tear?

Signs and symptoms of a torn meniscus may take approximately 24 hours or more for the pain and inflammation to occur, especially if the meniscal tear isn’t big. You may experience the following meniscus tear signs and symptoms:

  • Swelling and stiffness
  • A popping or clicking sensation
  • Difficulty fully straightening your knee
  • Pain, especially when rotating and twisting your knee
  • A feeling as though the knee is locked in place when you are trying to move it
  • Feeling as if your knee is giving away

After the meniscus is torn, the pain may not be bad, as athletes may be able to play through the injury. However, when the inflammation occurs, the knee may begin to hurt more.

How does Dr van Niekerk check for meniscal tears?

An MRI is a standard diagnostic test used to view the knee's hard and soft tissues. This evaluation is considered the gold standard for diagnosing a torn meniscus.

How do you treat meniscal tears?

The first line of treatment for a torn meniscus is conservative treatment like rest, ice and medication. Tears that occur due to arthritis improve gradually with arthritis treatment. Therefore surgery may be indicated if conservative treatment fails to provide relief and the tear due to arthritis doesn’t improve with arthritis treatment.

Meniscus surgery is a knee arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves the orthopaedic surgeon making small incisions and passing through a small, lighted optic tube (an arthroscope). Images of the knee will be projected on a screen to allow the surgeon to repair or trim out the torn meniscus. After the procedure, the incisions will be closed.


What are the common risk factors for a torn meniscus?

Doing activities such as aggressive twisting and pivoting of your knee puts you at risk of a torn meniscus. Athletes are at high risk.

What are the complications of a meniscal tear?

Meniscal tears may lead you to feel like your knee is giving away. You may struggle to move your knee and develop persistent knee pain. You may be at risk of developing osteoarthritis in the injured knee.

How are meniscal tears diagnosed?

If a meniscal tear is suspected, the orthopaedic surgeon may order x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the diagnosis.