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Meniscus Tear – About Meniscus Tears

A meniscus tear is an injury to any of the cartilage pads inside your knee joint. Meniscus tears commonly occur in people whose activities involve twisting of their legs while their feet are firmly planted on the floor. Meniscus tear is also called meniscal tear.

You have two meniscuses or menisci in each of your knee: the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus. Both meniscus cartilages are crescent shaped cartilages situated on top of your tibia (larger leg bone). They help absorb shock as you stand, walk or run. In addition, they help distribute joint fluid inside your knee joint.

Causes of Meniscus Tear

Meniscus tear often happens when the knee is forcefully turned while the foot is firmly planted on the ground. For example, you suddenly twist your upper leg while your foot is planted when you dribble a basketball around an opponent or you turn to hit a tennis ball.

Sports activities at risk for meniscus tear include
  • Basketball
  • Racquet sports such as tennis and badminton
  • Football

The condition may also be caused by a direct blow to the knee, which may also render other knee structures damaged. Sometimes, meniscus tears can happen in older people. As you age, the menisci tend to become weak and thin out, which may increase the likelihood of a degenerative meniscus tear to occur.


Symptoms of a meniscus tear may include
  • Pain, especially when you straighten your knee
  • Swelling
  • Knee joint stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Clicking knee or knee locking
  • Feeling of you knee “giving” way when you attempt to walk
  • Difficulty straightening your knee

Others may feel or hear a “pop” at the time of their injury.


Your doctor will likely ask about your activity that led to your injury and any related medical history. He or she will then perform a thorough examination of your knee including checking for tenderness along your knee joint line. Your doctor may also use the “McMurray test,” which is a special orthopedic test that when tested positive may indicate a torn meniscus.

Your doctor may also recommend imaging tests such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your knee to look for the real cause of your knee pain or to confirm a diagnosis.


If you have a minor meniscus tear your doctor may recommend that you follow the RICE protocol for minor injuries. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your doctor may advise you to
  • Rest and limit movement of your knee for a day or two to allow healing.

  • Apply an ice pack on your injured knee for 20 minutes at a time, every 3 to 4 hours per day until your pain and swelling subsides. Be sure to wrap the pack with towel before applying to your injured knee.

  • Use an elastic bandage to minimize swelling in your knee. If you are unsure how to apply the bandage, don’t hesitate to ask your physical therapist or doctor.

  • Elevate your limb above the level of your heart. This can help reduce your swelling.

  • Take over the counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • Undergo physical therapy.

  • Use crutches to avoid stressing your injured knee

Surgery may be recommended by your doctor if conservative treatment options do not relieve your symptoms or if you have other damaged knee structures. You should discuss with your doctor about the risks of having knee meniscus surgery and what you might expect after your surgery.

Physical Therapy for Mensicus Tears - Treatment Options

Your physical therapy rehabilitation program depends on your symptoms and whether you have had knee surgery or not for your meniscus tear. Physical therapy treatments may include a combination of any of the following
  • Ice / hot packs
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Gentle range of motion (ROM) exercises
  • Stretching / flexibility exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Balance exercises
  • Stretching / mobilization techniques
  • Gait (walking) training using crutches during the initial stage of recovery
  • Electrotherapeutic modalities such as ultrasound or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Patient education

The treatment options mentioned above will not be provided to you in one physical therapy treatment visit. The type of treatment that you will receive can only be determined by your personal physical therapist, which he or she bases on your specific problems and goals.

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