Torn Meniscus - Symptoms

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What are symptoms and signs of a torn meniscus?

Some people with a torn meniscus know exactly when they hurt their knee. There may be acute onset of pain and the patient may actually hear or feel a pop in their knee. As with any injury, there is an inflammatory response, including pain and swelling. The swelling within the knee joint from a torn meniscus usually takes a few hours to develop. Depending upon the amount of pain and fluid accumulation, the knee may become difficult to move. When fluid accumulates, it may be difficult and painful to fully extend or straighten the knee.

In some situations, the amount of swelling may not necessarily be enough to notice. Sometimes, the patient isn't aware of the initial injury but starts complaining of symptoms that develop later.

After the injury, the knee joint irritation may gradually settle down and feel relatively normal as the initial inflammatory response resolves. However, other symptoms may develop over time, including any or all of the following:

  • Pain with running or walking longer distances
  • Intermittent swelling of the knee joint: Many times, the knee with a torn meniscus feels "tight."
  • Popping, especially when climbing up or down stairs
  • Giving way or buckling (the sensation that the knee is unstable and a sense that the knee will give way): Less commonly, the knee actually will give way and cause the patient to fall.
  • Locking (a mechanical block where the knee cannot be fully extended or straightened): This occurs when a piece of torn meniscus folds on itself and blocks full range of motion of the knee joint. The knee gets "stuck," usually flexed between 15 and 30 degrees and cannot bend or straighten from that position.

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Comment from: Lilspark, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 10

I was squatting down to take laundry out of the washer when something snapped in my knee, it knocked me flat out on my back and everything went black for what felt like just under a minute. I remember screaming in pain when I felt the snap. It took almost an hour for the pain to go down to be able to walk with it. The next day it felt shaky and then over the next several days I started to get sharp pain, aches, giving out of my leg etc. I went for an x-ray and nothing showed up. I also had an ultrasound and am awaiting the results. The physiotherapist did several tests and has diagnosed torn meniscus and possible torn MCL (medial collateral ligament). I'm working on conservative treatment 3 times a week until I can get an MRI which could be months.

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Comment from: Cathy, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: October 02

It all started with a sore throat that didn't go away over a few days. Then I had a swollen gland on the left side of my neck. Left ear felt strange, but no pain. I saw the doctor and we both thought it was an ear infection. I went home with antibiotics. Next day I had fever with chills and was throwing up (nausea). This lasted two days. I knew something was really wrong when I had trouble walking the next morning. I walked like I was highly intoxicated but I didn't have anything to drink. It is called vertigo. I went back to my doctor with the aid of my neighbor and the nurse. He looked in my ear and saw the sores and rash. Perplexed (he's a PA, physician's assistant), he brought in the regular doctor. He tested me for nerve damage, looked at my ear and said I have shingles, and to go to the emergency room at the local hospital. They gave me mega doses of anti-viral medicines for three days and two nights. An MRI showed that it wasn't in my brain or my eye. It is called Ramsay Hunt syndrome. I still have a slight vertigo but I am in physical therapy for that. I got a hefty hospital bill. Three months later and my ear still itches. Massive rash and sores never developed. Thank you doctors and nurses.

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