Meniscus Tears: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

A torn meniscus is one of the most common orthopaedic injuries of the knee. Unfortunately, these injuries can be both painful and debilitating, especially if left untreated. Read on to learn more about meniscus tears, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is the meniscus?

According to, a healthy knee joint contains two c-shaped rubbery, cartilage-like pads, each called a meniscus. The pad that is located on the inside of the knee is called the medial meniscus. Conversely, the pad that lies on the outside of the knee is the lateral meniscus. Essentially, a meniscus acts as a shock absorber between the shinbone and the thighbone. It also helps provide stability and protect the knee cartilage lining of the joint.

What causes a torn meniscus?

Meniscus tears are typically sports-related injuries. Often, they occur in contact sports like football and hockey, as well as those that require sudden pivoting, stopping, and/or jumping movements like basketball and soccer. Meniscus tears usually occur when a person abruptly twists or turns their upper leg while their foot is planted and their knee is bent. Additionally, wear and tear from ageing (arthritis) and obesity can also increase a person’s risk of a meniscus tear.

What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?

Symptoms of a meniscus tear often include:

  • Knee pain and/or swelling
  • A popping feeling at the time of the injury
  • Knee stiffness and/or difficulty bending and straightening the leg
  • Continued “sticking” or “locking up” of the knee

In the beginning, the pain from this injury is typically not very severe. In fact, a person may even continue to play through the injury. However, once inflammation takes hold, the person will likely begin to experience increasingly intense knee pain.

How do you diagnose a torn meniscus?

To diagnose a meniscus tear, your doctor should provide a thorough exam. They will ask specific questions related to your injury, including how and when it occurred. Your doctor may also order an x-ray to rule out broken bones or other problems. Additionally, you may also require an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan in order, which provides more detail regarding the knee cartilage.

How do you treat meniscus tears?

Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the size, location, and severity of the tear. Additionally, your doctor will also consider factors like your age, activity level, and any previous/related injuries when determining the best course of treatment. Interestingly, the outer section of the meniscus, often called the “red zone,” has a good blood supply and can occasionally heal by itself if the tear is minor. However, the rest of the meniscus covering the inner portion, referred to as the “white zone” does not have a very good blood supply. Therefore, tears that occur in this zone will likely not heal on their own.


Thankfully, not all meniscus tears need surgery. If your knee feels stable, isn’t locking up or sticking, and your symptoms improve, conservative treatment may be enough. Here are some nonsurgical treatments we recommend for minor meniscus tears that don’t require surgery:

  • Rest. If you’re experiencing knee pain, restrict activities like walking or standing for long periods of time. Also, avoid higher-impact activities like running and jumping. If needed, use a brace, crutches, or a cane to help keep weight off the affected knee.
  • Ice. Icing can help reduce pain and swelling. Try it every 3 to 4 hours for 15 to 20 minutes for a couple of days or until the inflammation resolves.
  • Elevate. When you’re sitting or lying down, insert a pillow or cushion under the heel of your impacted leg to help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Take a pain reliever. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and Aleve may help reduce pain and swelling. However, you should not take these medications for any extended period of time, unless your doctor directs you otherwise. If your pain and/or inflammation persist after taking NSAIDs therapeutically for 3 to 5 days, be sure to talk to your doctor.
  • See a physical therapist. Physical therapy will incorporate stretches and strength training exercises to help strengthen the surrounding muscles, improve knee flexibility, and reduce stress on your leg and knee.


Unfortunately, some meniscus tears will need surgery. Tears that are more severe and/or cause the knee to lock, stick, or feel unstable often require surgery to repair the meniscus or remove unstable edges from it. The procedure is considered fairly simple, with minimal risk of complications. Often, patients are even able to go home the same day.

Following a meniscus repair procedure, your surgeon may recommend using a brace for protection while the leg heals. Your doctor will also likely prescribe physical therapy to help avoid complications and speed up the healing and recovery process. Depending on the type of surgery and severity of the tear, recovery usually takes around 4 to 6 weeks.

When should I talk to a doctor?

Remember, any condition may worsen and lead to additional complications if left untreated. If you are experiencing any type of moderate to severe and/or chronic pain, swelling, weakness, soreness, numbness, etc., you should contact a medical professional immediately. This will help ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Advanced Ortho & Spine can help.

At Advanced Ortho & Spine (AOS), our team specializes in treating a full range of orthopaedic injuries, including meniscus tears. In fact, most patients are able to get back to living their best lives with only conservative treatment, like physical therapy. Schedule an appointment by calling 615.885.0200 or request an appointment online today.

Dr. Christopher Cook is a Board-Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine & Joint Replacement Specialist at Advanced Ortho and Spine. He provides a full spectrum of Joint Replacement, Sports Medicine, and Shoulder & Upper Extremity services. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 






Dr. Micheal LaDouceur is a Board-Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine & Joint Replacement Specialist at Advanced Ortho and Spine. He provides a full spectrum of Joint Replacement, Sports Medicine, and Shoulder & Upper Extremity services. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 






With two locations near Nashville in Mt. Juliet and Hermitage, Advanced Ortho and Spine provides patients with high-quality, personalized care while advancing orthopaedic excellence. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule your appointment.

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