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Understanding the Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus

Understanding the Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus

When it comes to knee injuries, it seems like ACL tears and achilles injuries get all the attention and notoriety. While both these injuries are serious and often plague superstar athletes, meniscus tears are one of the most common knee injuries among both athletes and those over 65. The University of California, San Francisco, estimates that about 1 million Americans tear their meniscus every year.

As with any injury, the sooner you get treatment for a torn meniscus, the better. Although meniscus tears share some symptoms with other knee injuries, there are a few telltale signs of a torn meniscus that you should know. 

Are you currently dealing with knee pain and a feeling of instability in your leg? If so, come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he discusses meniscus facts, types of tears, risk factors for a tear, and common symptoms of a meniscus tear. 

What is the meniscus?

The two major bones of the leg, the femur and the tibia, meet at your kneecap bone, the patella. The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that sits between the femur and tibia as a type of shock absorber. The menisci (there is one on each side of the patella) help transfer weight from bone to bone and play a major role in the stability of the knee. 

Types of tears 

There are two kinds of meniscus tears, acute and degenerative. Most young athletes suffer acute tears, which occur from sudden trauma to the knee, like twisting. Degenerative tears are more common among the elderly. Over time, the meniscus wears down from all the work it does in cushioning the kneecap. Studies have shown that up to 40% of people 65 or older have meniscus tears. 

Common risk factors 

For athletes, the most common cause of a meniscus tear is a forceful twist or rotation. This can occur in a noncontact injury, such as when a basketball player makes a hard cut on the court, or in a contact injury, like a slide tackle in soccer. 

Among nonathletes, kneeling, deep squatting, or picking up a heavy object using your knees can cause a tear. In older adults, meniscus tears can occur with little to no trauma. Something as simple as getting out of a chair or stepping on a curb the wrong way can result in an injury. 


For minor tears, the only symptoms may be some mild swelling and pain. Moderate and severe tears are likely to be more painful and include other symptoms, including:

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to come see Dr. Nolan. He can give you a treatment plan for minor tears and is adept at treating severe tears. If surgery is necessary, Dr. Nolan is an expert on knee arthroscopy, a minimally invasive treatment method that will have you back on your feet faster than a traditional open surgery. 

To learn more about meniscus tears and knee arthroscopy, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.

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