Injury to the Cartilage That Cushions the Knee Joint

Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that is tough, but flexible. In the knee joint, there are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage called menisci. These special types of cartilage provide a shock-absorbing cushion between the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). If you bend or twist your knee improperly or your knee gets hit with some force, meniscal tears can happen.

Meniscal tears are one of the most common sports-related injuries, often occurring simultaneously with another knee injury like an ACL tear. Even so, anyone can experience a torn meniscus. Some reasons meniscus tears occur include:

  • The knee is twisted or bent in an awkward way while changing direction or landing from a jump.
  • Too much stress is put on the knee when you kneel or squat, especially if you’re lifting something heavy.
  • The knee gets hit forcefully (common during contact sports).
  • The meniscus has become weak and thin with age, but not all meniscal tears are symptomatic. There is a relatively high rate of these degenerative meniscal tears in those over 50 that do not cause pain. Those do not need treatment.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

The signs and symptoms of a torn meniscus are:

  • A popping feeling in the knee at the time of injury
  • Pain in the affected knee
  • Swelling and stiffness in the affected knee within a couple of days of becoming injured
  • A loss in range of motion
  • Pain when squatting

Sometimes torn meniscal tissue can loosen and move into a joint. This causes a sensation of popping and locking when you bend and straighten your knee. Your doctor can check for this during a physical exam to diagnose your injury. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be done to visualize the damaged knee tissue.

Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the location and severity of the tear, your age and how active you are. Some tears can be treated with rest and proper self-care. If you require surgery, recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the type of procedure you need. With the right treatment can generally get patients back to the activities they enjoy.

Experts in Care

Meet our doctors, view their profiles and select the one that’s right for you.

Find a doctor near you

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopaedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to state-of-the-art treatments, translational research and provider training.

The Most Comprehensive Sports Medicine Program in Central Pennsylvania

As part of Penn State Bone and Joint Institute, Penn State Sports Medicine is able to offer the most collaborative sports medicine care. Our primary care sports medicine providers work with our orthopaedic surgeons and other orthopaedic specialists to provide total care for the whole patient. This creates the best patient outcomes when combined with innovative procedures and individualized treatment plans.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine.

Support Groups

Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other patients and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles.

Learn more about support groups offered

Convenient Locations

Find the care your family needs, close to home, at one of our many locations throughout central Pennsylvania.

Find a location near you