Meniscus tears can occur suddenly during a sports game, or from simple daily activities such as turning to put dishes away or twisting when someone calls your name. Damage to the meniscus cartilage that cushions your knee joint can also result from years of wear and tear. Duke knee specialists evaluate the severity of your injury, where it’s located, and the health of your knee joint before recommending meniscus surgery or another treatment.
When to Seek Treatment
The meniscus is the cartilage that cushions and protects the knee joint and surrounding bones from the stresses of walking, running, bending, and climbing. Forceful twists from sudden stops or pivots -- common in football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and golf -- or deep knee bends can cause the meniscus to tear. Meniscus tears will sometimes occur at the same time as knee ligament injuries such as ACL tears because of the violent forces involved. Meniscus tears can also occur over time due to meniscus degeneration.
When to Make an Appointment
When swelling, pain with walking, locking or catching in the knee, giving way of the knee, and limited range of motion affect your ability to move, it’s time to see a knee specialist.
Visit Duke Orthopaedics Urgent Care
Our convenient orthopaedic urgent care clinic is open seven days a week. Get fast service with a well-trained orthopaedic provider and no unnecessary exposure to illness. No appointment is needed; walk-ins are welcome.
Duke Health offers orthopaedic clinics throughout the Triangle. In-person and virtual appointments are available.
Do You Need Meniscus Surgery?
Deciding on the right course of treatment for your torn meniscus depends on the severity of your injury, the location of the torn meniscus, and the health of your knee joint. Duke knee specialists conduct a thorough physical examination and imaging to determine whether you need meniscus surgery.
- A physical exam is performed to assess tenderness along the knee joint and to determine if there is popping/clicking of the knee with rotational movement
- X-rays check for broken bones and the presence of arthritis.
- An MRI evaluates the soft tissues -- muscles, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons -- of the knee. An MRI helps knee specialists assess the specific part of the cartilage that is damaged.
Older people, whose meniscus tears are the result of age and wear and tear, may benefit from physical therapy and guided exercise, non-steroidal pain medication, and other non-surgical treatment.
Returning to Sports Activities
Athletes who want to return to their normal level of activity may benefit from minimally invasive arthroscopic knee surgery -- during which orthopaedic surgeons repair or remove the damaged meniscus -- and physical therapy. The same meniscus surgery and rehab that helps school athletes and professionals will also benefit weekend warriors who want to stay competitive in their local tennis, soccer, or golf leagues.
Knee-specific exercises strengthen the muscles that surround and stabilize the knee joint. Physical therapy will help prepare your knee for surgery and help you get back to your normal activities faster after surgery. It rarely eliminates the need for meniscus surgery in a younger person or someone without any arthritis. A skilled therapist can provide recommendations for an exercise program as appropriate for the type of tear and discomfort.
Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are used to treat pain and swelling associated with meniscus tears.
Office-Based Cortisone Injections
Cortisone injections may temporarily decrease the pain associated with a tear but cannot heal a meniscus tear. These injections are used primarily when the knee is inflamed and swollen and there is arthritis associated with the meniscus tear.
Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our orthopaedics program is nationally ranked, and the highest ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2021–2022.