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Meniscal Tears

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What Are Meniscal Tears?

Meniscal tears occur in the tough knee cartilage responsible for cushioning the knee joint and absorbing shock.

Frequent causes of meniscal tears include:

  • Trauma to the knee
  • Twisting of a bent knee joint

Meniscal tear risk factors

Meniscal tears are considered one of the the most common knee injuries.

Athletes are more likely than nonathletes to develop a meniscal tear. Among athletes, those participating in contact sports are at an additional risk for developing this injury.

Complications of meniscal tears

When left untreated, meniscal tears can lead to significant joint and mobility trouble.

Meniscal tears can progress over time and inhibit activity levels — including walking — and cause a great deal of pain. This weakness in one or both knees can cause additional muscle injuries because of the strain of over-correcting.

Why choose UPMC for meniscal tear treatments?

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Meniscal Tear Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of meniscal tears

Meniscal tear symptoms usually occur immediately following an injury or twist and intensify if not treated.

Commonly reported symptoms of a torn meniscus include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • A popping or clicking sensation
  • Joint locking, which can restrict the ability to fully straighten the knee
  • Limited range of motion
  • Feeling like your knee has given out

Diagnosing meniscal tears

Your doctor will carefully collect your medical history and conduct a comprehensive physical exam. This aims to help differentiate people with a meniscus tear from those with knee pain from other sources and causes.

Based on the results of your history and exam, your doctor may order further testing.

Common diagnostic tests for a torn meniscus include:

  • X-rays — to help your doctor gain a closer look at the knee for changes in bone structure over time.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — to help your doctor focus on the soft tissues around the knee for the presence of a muscle sprain or tear. 

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Meniscal Tear Treatment

Treatment goals for meniscal tears

The goals of treatment for meniscal tears, though largely individualized, primarily focus on:

  • Preserving or permitting range of motion in the knee
  • Stabilizing the joints
  • Managing pain

Types of treatment for meniscal tears

Treatment choices include both nonsurgical treatment options and surgical procedures, based on individual symptoms, medical history, and activity goals.

The most common nonsurgical treatment options for meniscal tears include:

  • Rest, ice, compression. and elevation (R.I.C.E)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
  • Physical therapy
  • Bracing

Popular surgical reparative techniques aim to sew the torn area of the meniscus back together.

Two common surgical procedures are:

  • Partial meniscectomy
  • Total meniscectomy

Meniscal tear treatment benefits and risks

Treatments for meniscal tears have shown to be very effective in preserving knee function and mobility. If you suspect a meniscal tear or another knee injury, report this to your doctor right away.

Following any sort of surgical treatment of a meniscal tear, you will have to eliminate all weight bearing activities for three to six months, depending on your symptoms and medical history.

Rest periods and breaks from weight bearing activities are especially important for those hoping to return to physical activities. Defying doctors’ orders of rest can lead to further difficulties and related complications. 

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