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Meniscus Tears

What is the meniscus?

The meniscus is a C-shaped cartilage structure found in the knee. Each knee has two menisci—one on the inner side (medial meniscus) and one on the outer side (lateral meniscus). These structures act as shock absorbers and help distribute the load and pressure placed on the knee joint during activities such as walking, running, and jumping.

The meniscus is composed of fibrous cartilage and has a wedge-like shape. Its role includes providing stability to the knee, reducing friction between the bones, and aiding in the proper distribution of joint fluid for lubrication. Its structure is integral in preventing the onset of osteoarthritis.

The meniscus is vulnerable to injury, and tears can occur due to trauma or degenerative changes over time. Meniscal injuries are common, especially in sports that involve twisting or sudden changes in direction.

How common are meniscus tears?

Meniscus tears are relatively common, and they frequently occur as a result of traumatic injuries or degenerative changes associated with aging. The prevalence of meniscus tears varies across different age groups and activity levels. Generally, the frequency of meniscus tears varies by:


  • In younger individuals, meniscus tears often result from acute injuries, such as those sustained during sports activities that involve sudden twisting or direct trauma.
  • In older adults, meniscus tears are often associated with degenerative changes and wear and tear on the knee joint over time.

Activity Level:

  • Athletes, especially those involved in sports with pivoting or cutting movements (e.g., soccer, basketball, football), may be at a higher risk of meniscus tears due to the nature of their activities.
  • Meniscus tears can also occur in non-athletes due to everyday activities or degenerative changes.

It’s important to note that not all meniscus tears cause symptoms, and some tears may be asymptomatic. Additionally, the severity of symptoms and the appropriate treatment can vary based on the type, location, and extent of the meniscus tear.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

A torn meniscus can cause a variety of symptoms, and the severity of these symptoms can vary based on the type, size, and location of the tear. Common symptoms of a torn meniscus include:


  • Pain is a common symptom, especially along the joint line on either the inner (medial) or outer (lateral) side of the knee.
  • The pain may be sharp or aching, and it can worsen with certain movements.


  • Swelling around the knee joint is a common symptom of a meniscus tear.
  • The swelling may develop gradually over a day or two following the injury.


  • The knee may feel stiff, making it challenging to fully straighten or bend the joint.

Clicking or Popping Sensation:

  • Some individuals with a torn meniscus may experience a clicking or popping sensation within the knee joint, particularly during movement.

Locking or Catching:

  • A torn meniscus can cause the knee to lock or catch, preventing smooth and fluid movement.
  • This occurs when a torn fragment of the meniscus becomes lodged within the joint, inhibiting normal motion.


  • Weakness in the affected knee may be noticeable, and the individual may feel instability or a sense of giving way.

Limited Range of Motion:

  • The range of motion in the knee may be restricted, and it may be challenging to fully bend or straighten the leg.

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

During your consultation with Dr. Shane J. Nho, a thorough diagnostic process will be undertaken to assess the possibility of a meniscus tear. Dr. Nho will begin by gathering a detailed medical history, paying close attention to the circumstances surrounding the onset of symptoms, any specific injuries, and the nature of the pain or discomfort experienced.

Following the history-taking, Dr. Nho will conduct a comprehensive physical examination, which includes assessing the range of motion, stability, and any signs of tenderness around the knee joint. Certain findings during this examination, such as joint line tenderness, swelling, or a clicking sensation, can provide important clues regarding the presence of a meniscus tear.

As part of the diagnostic process, X-rays may be ordered to evaluate the overall structure of the knee joint and rule out other potential issues, such as fractures or arthritis.

However, definitive diagnosis of a meniscus tear often requires more advanced imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI provides detailed images of the soft tissues within the knee, allowing Dr. Nho to visualize the menisci and assess the extent and location of any tears. The MRI is a crucial tool for confirming the diagnosis and guiding the appropriate course of treatment.

At a Glance

Dr. Shane Nho

  • Board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon
  • Team Physician for Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Steel
  • Performs more than 700 procedures each year
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