Conditions & Treatments

Torn Meniscus

Meniscus tears can occur during a rotating movement while bearing weight, such as when twisting the upper leg while the foot stays in one place during sports and other activities.

Torn Meniscus

What is a torn meniscus?

Anatomy of the knee joint, showing ligaments
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The ends of the 3 bones in the knee the femur, tibia, and patella are covered with cartilage (a smooth material that covers bone ends of a joint to cushion the bone and allow the joint to move easily without pain) that acts as a shock absorber. Between the bones of the knees are 2 crescent-shaped discs of connective tissue, called menisci, which also act as shock absorbers to cushion the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body.

Meniscus tears can occur during a rotating movement while bearing weight, such as when twisting the upper leg while the foot stays in 1 place during sports and other activities. Tears can be minor, with the meniscus staying connected to the knee, or major, with the meniscus barely attached to the knee by a cartilage thread.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

The following are the most common symptoms of a torn meniscus. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, especially when holding the knee straight

  • Swelling and stiffness

  • Knee may click or lock

  • Knee may feel weak

The symptoms of a torn meniscus may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is torn meniscus diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a torn meniscus may include the following:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease in a surrounding ligament or muscle.

  • Arthroscopy. A minimally-invasive diagnostic and treatment procedure used for conditions of a joint. This procedure uses a small, lighted, optic tube (arthroscope) that is inserted into the joint through a small incision in the joint. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen; used to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joint; to detect bone diseases and tumors; to determine the cause of bone pain and inflammation.

Treatment for a torn meniscus

Specific treatment for a torn meniscus will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the injury

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies

  • Expectation for the course of the injury

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Icing

  • Medication, such as ibuprofen

  • Muscle-strengthening exercises

  • Arthroscopic surgery

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention
    The Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers state-of-the-art diagnostic exams including MRI and CT, interpretation by specialty-trained radiologists, and image-guided procedures for the bones, joints, and spine.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Orthopaedics
    The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Department of Orthopaedics

  • Sports Medicine Service
    Our Boston Sports Medicine team provides comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation for sports-related injuries from recreational, amateur and professional sports. Our Harvard faculty specialize in ACL, MCL and meniscus injuries in athletes and non-athletes.

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