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The meniscus is a C-shaped wedge of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber for the knee joint, providing a thick cushioning between the ends of the thigh bone (or femur) and the shin bone (or tibia). Each knee has two menisci, one on the outside (or lateral side) of the knee and one on the inside (or medial side) of the joint.

Sometimes, the menisci can become damaged from a sports injury, fall, accident, or from natural degeneration and wear and tear over time. This tear of the meniscus can cause significant pain and an inability to use the knee. This can definitely affect your active lifestyle.

Types of Meniscus Tears

The menisci can be torn in different ways, and the type of tear can help determine the best course of treatment:

  • A flap tear is a horizontal tear that forms at the top of the meniscus and results in a flap of loose cartilage.
  • A radial tear is a tear that begins at the inner edge of the meniscus and extends toward the outer edge.
  • A horizontal cleavage tear is a side-to-side tear that occurs in the body of the meniscus (rather than the edge).
  • A bucket-handle tear is a vertical (lengthwise) tear that leaves loosened tissue resembling a bucket handle.
  • Degenerative tears involve wear and fraying at the edge of the meniscus.

Symptoms of a torn meniscus include sharp pain in the knee joint along with swelling, stiffness and a “catching” sensation when the joint is moved. Those suffering from a torn meniscus may also experience a “popping” sensation when the tear occurs.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

Your treatment will depend on the type and extent of the tear and any surrounding damage in the knee. Diagnostic imaging with X-rays or MRIs (or both) combined with a physical evaluation of the joint will also help guide your treatment. Minor meniscus tears and many degenerative tears respond well to conservative treatment options like rest, application of ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes injections directly to the joint to relieve inflammation and pain. In other cases, a minimally-invasive procedure called knee arthroscopy may be the better option.

Cartilage and the meniscus have a limited blood supply, which makes healing more difficult. Most major tears can't be completely repaired; instead, treatment focuses on trimming away the damaged portions of the meniscus to help “restabilize” it so it continues to provide firm support for the joint. This procedure is called a meniscectomy, and it's performed using special instruments through tiny incisions in the knee. In most cases, you can be up and moving about, bearing weight on your knee shortly after your surgery.

When the damage is located along the outer rim of the meniscus, an area of the meniscus with a richer blood supply, the meniscus may be repaired using special sutures or fasteners to bring the torn edges together, allowing them to fuse during recovery. Meniscus repair typically requires a longer recovery period than a meniscectomy since the repaired meniscus needs time to heal. Weight-bearing may be restricted and you'll probably need to wear a knee brace during the initial stages of recovery.

Schedule a knee evaluation today.

Knee pain is one of the most common medical complaints among active men and women, but fortunately, today there are many techniques that can help relieve pain, restore function and even prevent or delay additional joint damage. Dr. Geoffrey Van Thiel is a leading provider of knee pain diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering from a torn meniscus in the greater Chicago area, with significant expertise in state-of-the-art treatments and innovative techniques aimed at helping patients return to their active lives as quickly as possible.

To find out more about knee pain causes and treatments, call OrthoIllinois at and schedule a consultation and evaluation with Dr. Van Thiel today.

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