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Meniscus (knee) tears in Children

  • "We advise kids not to specialize in just one sport. Multi-sport athletes tend not to get as many meniscal tears and other acute and overuse injuries. And for practicing, we advise kids and coaches to alternate exercises and vary drills. In the long term, your muscle memory is better if you change up your practice exercises."

    --Orthopedic Team, Boston Children's Hospital Orthopedic Center

    With more and more kids playing organized sports, there’s been a rise in the number of overuse injuries, as well as acute injuries like meniscus tears, among children and adolescents.

    If your child or teen has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus, we at Children’s Hospital Boston know that he’s experiencing discomfort, as well as some disappointment at the disruption of his sports training. We’ll approach your child’s treatment with sensitivity and support. We want to get your child back to his normal activities—and back into his game safely.

    About meniscus tears (also called meniscal tears)

    • A meniscus tear is sometimes thought of as an overuse injury, but is more accurately classified as an acute injury, usually from sports.
    • The meniscus is a wedge-shaped structure in the knee that consists of fibrocartilage—a very tough but pliable material.
    • The medial meniscus is located on the inside of the knee (toward the middle of the body) and the lateral meniscus is located on the outside of the knee.
    • In the knee joint, the menisci act primarily as stabilizers and shock absorbers between the thigh bone and the shin bone.
    • Compressing or twisting the knee can tear the meniscus, a common injury in sports such as football.
    • More than 500,000 meniscal tears happen in the United States every year.
    • Meniscal tears are often associated with injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
    • Meniscal tears can lead to early arthritis.

    If a piece of torn meniscus isn't removed and "floats" around the knee, it may cause the joint to lock.

    Signs that your child's knee has a torn meniscus include:

    • a popping sensation
    • swelling or stiffness
    • pain associated with twisting or rotating the knee
    • difficulty in fully straightening the knee, or feeling like the knee is locking

    Meniscus tears can often be prevented with:

    • proper conditioning and training (especially cross-training)
    • sport-appropriate equipment and protective gear
    • adequate rest between exercise sessions

    Common types of tears

    [illustration courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons]

    Children’s Hospital Boston’s approach to meniscus tears

    Depending on the severity of your child's meniscus tear, treatment may be non-surgical or surgical. At Boston Children's, our doctors are committed to repairing your child's knee with the least invasive option possible.

    You can have peace of mind knowing that the orthopedic team at Boston Children’s has treated thousands of children, adolescents, adults and professional athletes with injuries ranging from the minor to the highly complex. We can provide your child with expert diagnosis, treatment and care—as well as the benefits of some of the most advanced clinical and scientific research in the world.

    The Orthopedic Center at Boston Children’s has provided care to thousands of young athletes and is the health care choice of professional athletes and world-renowned dancers. We are the official orthopedic caregivers for the internationally famous Boston Marathon and the renowned Boston Ballet.

    We provide comprehensive assessment, treatment and follow-up care to children, adolescents and young adults who have sports-related orthopedic injuries. Our skilled orthopedists and sports medicine experts work with physical therapy staff to develop long-term treatment and activity plans. Our team has also developed innovative evaluation programs and effective injury prevention programs and strategies.

    Our orthopedic team includes 24 orthopedic surgeons, 10 primary care sports medicine specialists, two podiatrists, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist, eight physician assistants, 14 nurses and four certified athletic trainers.

    Besides our busy Boston practice, Children's physicians see 500 to 600 patients every week at our locations in Lexington, Weymouth, Peabody and Waltham.

    Our surgeons perform an over 5,000 surgical procedures each year. And because of the knee joint's limited capacity for self-repair, Boston Children's Sports Medicine Research Laboratory is looking for a way to help jump-start the knee into healing itself.

    Meniscus tears: Reviewed by Yi-Meng Yen, MD, PhD
    © Boston Children's Hospital, 2011

    Boston Children's Orthopedic Center Among Highest in U.S.

    As one of the first comprehensive, multidisciplinary programs, Children’s Orthopedic Center is the nation’s largest and most experienced pediatric orthopedic surgery center, performing more than 6,000 surgical procedures each year. Our program—consistently ranked among the top three by U.S.News & World Report—is the preeminent care center for children and young adults with congenital, neuromuscular, developmental and post-traumatic musculoskeletal problems.

    Boston Children's at the Boston Ballet

    The Sports Medicine Division provides comprehensive medical coverage for the Boston Ballet, one of the leading professional dance companies in North America, with more than 50 full-time, top-trained dancers and an internationally-acclaimed repertoire. In addition, through a unique partnership with the Division of Sports Medicine, students from Boston Ballet’s summer dance program—one of the premier ballet training programs in the nation—receive physical therapy from Children’s specialists with expertise in dance-specific injuries.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO