Torn Meniscus

What are symptoms and signs of a torn meniscus?

Very often, meniscal tears do not cause symptoms or problems. However, 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, and depending upon the amount of pain and fluid accumulation, the knee may become difficult to move. When fluid accumulates within the enclosed area of the knee joint, it may be difficult and painful to fully extend or straighten the knee, since the knee has the most space available when it is about 15 degrees flexed.

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. There may not be an acute injury and the torn meniscus may be a consequence of aging, arthritis in the knee, and degeneration or wearing away of the cartilage.

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 the feeling 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.
Reviewed on 6/13/2014

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