What is a Meniscus Injury?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2018
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The knee joint contains two sections of cartilage tissue, each called a meniscus, that work to stabilize and cushion the joint. A meniscus injury, in which tissue becomes stretched or torn, can occur if the knee twists or bends awkwardly. Meniscus injuries are most common in athletes and people with weakened cartilage tissue due to arthritis or aging. A person usually experiences swelling, bruising, stiffness, and local pain when he or she suffers a meniscus injury. Minor injuries can typically heal in a few weeks by resting and icing the joint, but a severe tear may require surgery.

Meniscus tissue is located at the base of the knee joint, where the lower leg bones come together. The two sections of tissue help protect the bones, tendons, and ligaments from stretching and tearing. A meniscus injury can occur when the knee is directly hit by an object, another person, or the ground, or when the joint bends in an awkward way. Injuries are very common among people who play high-impact sports, including basketball and football. Since cartilage tissue tends to deteriorate with age, older people are also prone to knee injuries.


A number of symptoms are associated with meniscus injuries. When the cartilage stretches or tears, a person usually experiences immediate pain and swelling. He or she might hear a popping sound at the time of the injury, a sure sign that a tear has occurred. The joint tends to lose flexibility, and it can be very painful to try to walk or even bend the knee. A severe tear may prevent a person from putting any weight on the leg at all.

Most doctors believe that the best way to promote a quick recovery from a meniscus injury is to rest and ice the knee joint for a few days. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. When the knee becomes less tender and it is possible to put weight on it again, an individual can go on short walks and exercise the knee at home to regain flexibility and strength. A supportive knee brace can help stabilize the joint and prevent further injury when engaging in activity. Most knee problems that result from meniscus strains or tears disappear in about one month.

A person who experiences severe pain following a meniscus injury should visit an emergency room so that doctors can determine the extent of tissue damage. Physicians often prescribe pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs, and inform patients of physical therapy options to help them recover. In some cases, surgery is needed to mend the meniscus or remove badly damaged tissue. Knee replacement surgery is usually unnecessary unless other parts of the joint or kneecap have been permanently disfigured.



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