• 1. How can a meniscus be torn?

    Ans.

    The medial and lateral menisci are fixed between the two weight-bearing surfaces within the knee, and as such can become “pinched” by the other structures of the knee between the joint when an injury occurs. Typically, the injury involves twisting on a bent knee. When this happens the menisci can become torn (“torn cartilage”). Any form of physical movement can potentially cause a meniscal tear, although they tend to be associated with sporting activities. A classic example is of a footballer tackling another player, but meniscal tears can occur following everyday pursuits, such as gardening or even just taking a long walk.

  • 2. Can a meniscal tear heal by itself?

    Ans.

    Most of the meniscus does not have its own blood supply, and so cannot always get the nutrients needed for self-repair. Whether or not the meniscus can heal therefore depends on where it becomes torn. Tears on the outer rim of the meniscus, which attaches to the knee capsule, do have the potential to heal because they are close to a blood supply. However, the more common site for meniscal tears is on the peripheral rim, or the inner aspect of the meniscus, and these have no capacity for self-repair.

  • 3. What are the symptoms of a meniscal tear?

    Ans.

    The classic symptom of a torn meniscus is pain, often felt as a sharp, almost “knife-like” stabbing sensation on the inside (medial tear) or outside (lateral tear) of the knee. This pain is often felt in waves, with bouts of severe discomfort, followed by no pain, felt over the course of several days/weeks. However, the pain may also be felt as an aching sensation or even just as stiffness of the knee. The knee may also become swollen or “locked” in place, making it impossible to straighten it, or even collapse, or give the impression that it will collapse, from beneath you.

  • 4. How does the doctor know I have a meniscal tear?

    Ans.

    A meniscal tear can be diagnosed based on your description of how your injury occurred, and by taking a specialized photograph of your knee known as a magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scan. An MRI scan uses very strong magnetic fields to look at the inside of the knee, and allows all the soft tissues, ligaments and cartilage to be seen clearly. X-rays are not very useful in making a diagnosis, as these show only the bony structures of the knee, but may be used in the emergency setting to check that there are no broken bones.

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