Injuries to the meniscal cartilages are among the most common causes of pain within the knee. The meniscal cartilages (often called simply the cartilages or meniscus) are shock absorbers in the knee. There are two meniscal cartilages in each knee, a medial meniscus on the inside of the knee and a lateral meniscus on the outside.
The meniscal cartilage is a half moon shaped piece of tissue that lies between the weight bearing surfaces of the knee. The function of the meniscal cartilages is to evenly distribute load across the knee joint.
Tears to the meniscal cartilage in younger people are usually the result of significant injury to the knee. These injuries often occur during sporting activity and may be associated with damage to other structures around the knee, such as ligament tears.
With age, the meniscal cartilages may degenerate and become friable. In this case the meniscal cartilage may tear with only a minor injury, or even with normal activity.
The most common symptom caused by a torn meniscal cartilage is pain. This is often felt on the side of the knee where the cartilage is located. At other times it may be generalised about the knee.
The pain is often made worse by certain activities for example squatting, twisting, stairs or running.
Swelling in the knee often occurs with meniscal tears.
Occasionally, the knee can become locked. This occurs when a piece of the torn meniscal cartilage becomes jammed in between the weight bearing surfaces of the knee. This is often very uncomfortable and usually stops the knee from fully straightening.
The meniscal cartilage has a very poor blood supply in adults, even in children the blood supply is poor. Because of this a meniscal cartilage tear usually does not heal. Surgery is often required.
The options for painful meniscal cartilage tears are either repair of the tear or removal of the torn portion of the meniscus.
Most tears to the meniscal cartilages are treated by removing the torn portion. In young patients with certain types of meniscal cartilage tear, meniscal repair can be attempted.
If the meniscal cartilage tear is not repairable then removal of the torn portion is a good option. This is usually performed by a keyhole procedure on the knee (knee arthroscopy).
More information on meniscal repair and knee arthroscopy can be found in the procedures section of this website.
Injuries to the meniscal cartilages are among the most common causes of pain in the knee. The meniscal cartilages (often called simply the cartilages or meniscus) are shock absorbers in the knee.
The gallery below contains images taken within the knee of normal and then various torn meniscal cartilages.