Meniscal Tear

Cartilage Damage

When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus. The meniscus are pads of cartilage in the knees that serve as shock absorbers between the femur and the tibia. Meniscal tears are categorized by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Sports-related meniscal tears often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears when a player squats and twists the knee forcefully, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved.

Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscal tears. Cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear, if the menisci have weakened with age.

Symptoms of a Meniscal Tear

You might feel a "pop" when you tear a meniscus, but most people can still walk on their injured knee. Some of the symptoms you may feel include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Catching or locking of your knee
  • The sensation of your knee "giving way"


How your orthopedic surgeon treats your tear will depend on the type of tear you have, its size, and its location. If your tear is small and on the outer edge of the meniscus, it may not require surgical repair. As long as your symptoms do not persist and your knee is stable, nonsurgical treatment may be all you need.

Non-surgical treatment: Patients should use the RICE protocol (R-rest, I-ice, C-compression, E-elevation) and take an NSAID like aspirin or ibuprofen.

Surgical treatment: If your symptoms persist, your orthopedic surgeon may suggest arthroscopic knee surgery to repair the meniscus (meniscal repair) or remove the torn portion of the cartilage (meniscectomy).