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: FED UP, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: December 30

I started to have knee problems in January 2013, in May I had an x-ray and there was nothing abnormal. I saw a surgeon and a surgery date was set for mid-May. I returned to work in June. I started physiotherapy two weeks after surgery. I was unable to straighten my leg and physiotherapist wondered if I had another meniscus tear. I had an MRI done and there was another tear (not as large). I had surgery in August. I am still unable to straighten leg. Physiotherapist, after massaging, was able to straighten it but once I started to walk it would bend again. My knee started to swell and I was in the hospital with pain. I saw my surgeon 3 weeks after surgery. He took some fluid to test to see if it was septic. There was high white cell count but not septic. Now I am going for another MRI. I think the meniscus is torn again. I feel unstable and have pain all of the time. I am unable to walk up the stairs with bad leg first. What happens if there is another tear! I haven't been able to straighten my leg since April. I asked after last surgery if they should put my leg in some sort of cast so it at least starts out straight.

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Comment from: Nomorepain, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: April 11

I had severe pain in my left knee back in 2010. I could hardly walk or do my job at a daycare. MRI revealed I had a torn meniscus. I had surgery to repair it at an outpatient service. I walked out a 1/2 hour after surgery with no pain. I did have severe knee spasm after 3 days along with swelling. However this was brought on by not resting and elevating my leg as I was taking care of my husband who was just diagnosed with cancer. The doctor gave me medicines for the spasm and said I may need knee replacement in 6 months to a year. That was four years this June and I"m still good.

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