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Torn meniscus

A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting the pressure of your full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus.

Each of your knees has two menisci — C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness. You also might have trouble extending your knee fully.

Conservative treatment — such as rest, ice and medication — is sometimes enough to relieve the pain of a torn meniscus and give the injury time to heal on its own. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus requires surgical repair.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

If you've torn your meniscus, you may experience the following signs and symptoms in your knee:

  • A popping sensation
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee
  • Difficulty straightening your knee fully
  • Experiencing what feels like a block to moving your knee, as if your knee were locked in place

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if your knee is painful or swollen, or if you can't move your knee in the usual ways.

A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, such as aggressive pivoting or sudden stops and turns. Even kneeling, deep squatting or lifting something heavy can sometimes lead to a torn meniscus. In older adults, degenerative changes of the knee may contribute to a torn meniscus.

Anyone performing activities involving aggressive twisting and pivoting of the knee is at risk of a torn meniscus. The risk is particularly high for athletes — especially those who participate in contact sports, such as football, or activities that involve pivoting, such as tennis or basketball. The risk of a torn meniscus also increases as you get older, due to years of wear and tear on your knees.

A torn meniscus can lead to knee instability, inability to move your knee normally or persistent knee pain. You also may be more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the injured knee.

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