Meniscus Tear


What Is a Meniscus Tear?

Our knees work all day – helping us walk, run, jump, bend and even sit. The meniscus, a piece of thick, rubbery cartilage, helps protect the knee, acting as a shock absorber. The two menisci sit between the thigh bone and shin bone, to protect and stabilize our knee joint. A torn meniscus can cause knee pain and swelling. You may find that you can’t fully extend your knee due to meniscus pain.

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. But athletes are at especially high risk for a torn meniscus. A meniscus tear may also occur in older adults because the cartilage thins over time.

Our orthopedic experts will first try to treat a meniscus tear using noninvasive treatments, like rest, medication and physical therapy. If those treatments do not work or work only temporarily, we’ll discuss meniscus surgery options with you so you can reduce knee pain and return to an active life.

The Aurora Difference

Advanced Treatment for a Meniscus Tear

Aurora Health Care is one of the largest regional health care providers in Wisconsin. Our orthopedic specialists treat many people for meniscus tears every year, giving us the experience needed to care for people of all ages and activity levels – from competitive athletes to older adults with degenerative joint conditions.

When you come to us, you will find:

  • Integrated care: Our team provides care for the whole person, not just the condition. Orthopedists, primary care doctors and physical therapy specialists work with you to find the treatment solution that fits your needs. And together, we’ll monitor your progress carefully so we can switch to a different treatment plan if you’re still experiencing pain and limited movement.
  • Advanced treatment options: If you’ve tried noninvasive treatments but continue to experience meniscus pain, we offer a range of meniscus surgery options. We may perform an arthroscopic (minimally invasive) repair surgery, an intricate meniscus transplant procedure or a customized knee replacement surgery. Taking into account your lifestyle and unique genetic makeup, we won’t rest until we find the surgical approach that works best for you.
  • Sports medicine expertise: At Aurora, you’ll have access to orthopedic surgeons with specialized training in sports medicine. These surgeons have the resources and unique skills needed to care for athletes and active adults who have a meniscus tear – and the ability to return them to play quickly and safely. Learn more about orthopedic sports health at Aurora.
  • One-on-one physical therapy: If you need physical therapy, our team provides customized, one-on-one physical therapy sessions. We tailor the therapy to your specific needs, changing the plan as you progress so you can reach your health goals. We offer physical therapy at a number of locations throughout the state, so you can get the care you need close to work, home or school.

Symptoms & Causes

Symptoms & Causes of a Meniscus Tear

If you are playing a sport and feel a sudden popping sensation in your knee, you may have torn your meniscus. You may still be able to walk on your knee, but over the next few days, the symptoms will worsen.

Symptoms of a meniscus tear also include:

  • Knee pain
  • Inability to fully extend the knee
  • Stiffness or swelling
  • Sensation of your knee “locking” in place

Getting prompt diagnosis and treatment is important because a piece of meniscus can come loose and travel into the joint. The piece can then cause your knee to lock.

Causes of a torn meniscus include:

  • Sports, especially if you twist or rotate your knee suddenly
  • A direct injury, like one that happens during a tackle
  • Aging, because regular wear and tear on the knee causes the cartilage to thin and tear


Comprehensive Meniscus Tear Diagnosis

To diagnose a meniscus tear, we will first ask you about your symptoms. We may also order other diagnostic tests including:

  • Movement tests: We will move your knee and leg in different directions and ask you to squat and walk. These activities help us pinpoint the location of the meniscus tear.
  • Imaging tests: We may use X-rays to rule out other conditions that are causing the knee pain. A magnetic resonance image (MRI) scan can provide detailed pictures of soft tissue, like your meniscus, to confirm a diagnosis.
  • Arthroscopic procedure: We may perform this minimally invasive procedure to help diagnose a meniscus tear. We’ll make a tiny incision in your knee and insert an arthroscope, a thin instrument with a camera. The arthroscope gives us an enlarged, detailed picture of your knee anatomy.

At Aurora, you’ll get a prompt, precise diagnosis from a team of experts, so you can get the treatment you need. Learn more about our orthopedic diagnosis process.


Expert Meniscus Tear Treatment

Your treatment plan will depend on where the tear is, what caused it and how severe it is.

Noninvasive meniscus tear treatment methods include:

  • Rest: Rest involves avoiding activities that cause you to rotate your knee. While you are resting, crutches can help reduce the pressure on the damaged knee. Icing the knee can help reduce swelling and pain, too.
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, can reduce knee swelling and pain.
  • Physical therapy: A customized physical therapy plan can restore your knee strength and function. Find out more about our personalized approach to physical therapy.

If the meniscus pain persists, or the tear is severe, we may recommend more extensive treatment, like surgery. Procedures include:

  • Knee arthroscopy: For this minimally invasive procedure, we make tiny incisions in the knee and use specialized instruments to trim or repair the meniscus. These procedures result in a more targeted surgery, so there is less damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. That means minimal scarring and an easier, often faster recovery. Get more information about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
  • Meniscus transplant surgery: Sometimes, when the meniscus is badly damaged, we may need to remove it completely. If you’re under 55 years of age, you may be a candidate for a meniscus transplant surgery. We have several orthopedic surgeons who perform this highly technical procedure safely and effectively.
  • Knee replacement surgery: If you’re an older adult who needs to have the meniscus completely removed, knee replacement surgery may be a good option for you. We offer many different types of knee replacement procedures. Our team will discuss with you which approach will best suit your needs. Learn more about knee replacement surgery.

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