What is a torn meniscus and how do you treat it?

A torn meniscus is a common knee injury among athletes. Physio Alex Parford explains its causes, symptoms and treatment

Credit: Getty Images

A torn meniscus is a common knee cartilage injury for athletes, which is often caused by twisting or rotating your knee, particularly when the knee is load bearing.

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What is your meniscus?

Within your knee you have two pieces of cartilage called your medial (inner) and lateral (outer) menisci. These menisci play an important role in absorbing force within the knee and keeping the joint healthy.

What causes a torn meniscus?

A torn meniscus is an injury to either or both of the pieces of cartilage, typically following a traumatic twisting motion. However, you can also develop a degenerative meniscal tear as a result of repetitive, strain-based movements over a period of time.

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What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

Symptoms for a torn meniscus typically include:

  • Pain on the joint line of the knee
  • Locking of the knee
  • Clicking of the knee
  • Pain on rotational movements of the knee
  • Pain at end range of knee bend
  • Pain on the inside of the knee when walking

What are the treatments for a torn meniscus?

The two most common forms of treatment for a torn meniscus are physiotherapy and surgery. The correct course of treatment will be dependent upon the severity of the tear and any other associated injuries within the knee.

Physiotherapy has been proven to be very effective for smaller or lesser traumatic tears. In the first instance, physiotherapy will be used to reduce pain and improve the range of motion within the knee. The next step will be to improve the strength and control around the hip, knee and ankle, which will help to reduce the amount of pressure placed on the tear.

Surgical intervention will be required when the tear is more severe and if there are any other injuries within the knee such as a ligament tear. The most common type of surgery performed is called an arthroscopy (keyhole surgery).

How can you prevent meniscal tears?

Traumatic meniscal tears can be difficult to prevent as they usually occur during incidents such as a football tackle or a fall while skiing. However, you can help to reduce the risk of injury by maintaining a good level of strength in your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves, alongside some control and balance work. This also applies to the prevention of degenerative tears which can be an issue as you become older. If you would like to learn more about a pre- or re-habilitation programme, you should contact your physiotherapist for more details.

Alex Parford is a physio with Six Physio Borough,  and a running coach and focuses on improving people’s technique and strength whilst running.

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If you have any medical concerns at all always seek medical attention from a registered physiotherapist or doctor. During this lockdown time Six Physio are offering virtual physio appointments.

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