Your knee is the largest joint in your body and one of the most complex. Because you use it so much, it is vulnerable to injury. Because it is made up of so many parts, many different things can go wrong.
Meniscal tears are among the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at risk for meniscal tears. However, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus. When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.
Menisci tear in different ways. Tears are noted by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Common tears include longitudinal, parrot-beak, flap, bucket handle, and mixed/complex.
Sports-related meniscal tears often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.
Sudden meniscal tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved.
Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscal tears. Cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear, if the menisci have weakened with age.
You might feel a “pop” when you tear a meniscus. Most people can still walk on their injured knee. Many athletes keep playing with a tear. Over 2 to 3 days, your knee will gradually become more stiff and swollen. The formation of a Baker’s cyst is possible after any internal injuries of the knee.
The most common symptoms of meniscal tear are:
Stiffness and swelling
Catching or locking of your knee
The sensation of your knee “giving way” or instability
You are not able to move your knee through its full range of motion
Without treatment, a piece of meniscus may come loose and drift into the joint. This can cause your knee to slip, pop or lock.
Some meniscus tears can heal on their own while others may need to be debrided and repaired. Some patients with extensive damage may consider a meniscus transplant.