Torn Meniscus

What is a torn meniscus?

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 thighbone and the shinbone.

Any activity in which the knee is compressed or forcefully twisted or rotated can lead to a torn meniscus. With more and more children 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. There are more than 500,000 meniscal tears in the U.S. every year.

Football players and others athletes in contact sports can tear a meniscus when twisting the knee, pivoting, cutting, or decelerating. Meniscus tears can often happen in combination with other injuries such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

The symptoms of a meniscus tear may include:

  • a “popping” sensation in the knee
  • stiffness and swelling
  • pain when twisting or rotating the knee
  • difficulty in fully straightening the knee, or feeling like the knee is locking
  • tenderness in the joint line
  • collection of fluid (“water on the knee”)

What are the causes of a torn meniscus?

As more and more kids participate in organized sports, there’s been a rise in the number of meniscal tears and other overuse injuries (microtraumas to bones, tendons, ligaments, or muscles) among adolescents and children, largely from repetitively using the same parts of the body. Football, tennis, and basketball players can tear a meniscus by twisting the knee, pivoting, cutting, or decelerating.

In young athletes, the meniscus can tear in a number of different ways. They often get longitudinal or “bucket-handle” tears if the femur and tibia trap the meniscus when the knee turns. Less often, young athletes get a combination of tears called radial or “parrot beak,” in which the meniscus splits in two directions due to repetitive stress activities, such as running.

How we care for a torn meniscus

At the Orthopedic Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, we will care for your child's knee with the least invasive option possible. Our team 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.

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