Meniscal (cartilage) tear


What is a meniscus?

The knee has two internal cartilage discs (meniscus), which act a bit like cushions or shock absorbers within the knee. Injury (tearing) of the meniscus is common and represents the most frequent problem seen in the knee clinic.

Meniscus tears are also sometime referred to as ‘cartilage tears’.

What causes a meniscus tear?

Meniscal tears can occur as a result of a twisting injury to the knee while it is under load (when weight bearing).

Sometimes you can easily recall the exact moment when the injury occurred, such as sudden knee pain during a game of football or a sudden pain felt inside the knee when standing up from crouching down. However, it isn’t always possible to attribute the injury to a given incident.

In some cases a tear develops due to repeated small injuries to the meniscus or to degeneration (wear and tear) of the meniscal cartilage.


What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

1. Pain – If you have a torn meniscus this might feel like a ‘sharp catching pain’ on the inside or around the back of the knee.

2. Locking – Sometimes the knee can ‘lock’ or ‘stick’ in one position.

3. Swelling – Knee swelling can also be a feature.

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

Following examination of the knee often an MRI scan (magnetic resonance image) of the knee is required to confirm the diagnosis. This can also be used to look for any other associated injuries.

How is a meniscal tear treated?


In appropriate cases keyhole surgery (a knee arthroscopy) may be required. This can be very successful at alleviating the sharp catching pain associated with the meniscal/cartilage tear.

The torn section of the meniscus can either be removed using keyhole instruments or repaired by stitching it back into place. The medical terms for these procedures are ‘arthroscopic meniscectomy’ or ‘meniscal repair’ respectively.


As only a small proportion of meniscal tears can be repaired removal of the torn section (a partial meniscectomy) is the most common procedure carried out. However, if at the time of surgery a repair were possible, I would aim to do this as a preference to removing the torn section.

For more information please see ‘Procedure’ sections; under knee arthroscopy , arthroscopic meniscectomy or meniscal repair