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.

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

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic 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 advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Coordinated, Specialized Care Through a Dedicated Institute

Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

Confidence in Treatment Through Education

We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

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, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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