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The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists

Causes Of Meniscus Injuries

knee pain

A torn meniscus is a knee injury we see quite often at Galway Bay Physio. The most common mechanism of injury is twisting your knee with a planted foot. Each knee has two menisci, one on the inside and one on the outside of the knee joint. The menisci are C shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers and weight bearers between the shin and thigh bones. When you damage or tear the meniscus you may get pain, swelling, stiffness (especially when trying to straighten the knee) and locking of the knee. Conservative physiotherapy treatment is often enough to relieve the pain of a torn meniscus and build up the strength to prevent recurrences. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus is too severe and requires surgical repair and physiotherapy rehabilitation is required after the operation.

Sudden meniscus tears often happen during sports and running. As stated above, runners or players may suddenly turn or even squat and twist the knee and cause a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is also sometimes involved in contact sports. However, older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscus tears because weakens and wears thin over time therefore it is more prone to tears. Because of this, an innocuous movement such as an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may even be enough to cause a tear.

Signs And Symptoms

When a meniscus tear occurs, you may hear a popping sound around your knee joint. Afterward, you may experience pain, swelling, reduced range of motion and occasionally the feeling that your knee is giving way or unable to support you. You may also experience a slipping, popping and locking or catching sensation, which is usually an indication that a piece of cartilage has become loose and is blocking the knee joint. If you experience any of these symptoms and they persist for more than a few days or occur after your knee has been injured, you should contact you’re a physiotherapist. We would then perform a thorough assessment to diagnose the problem and discuss the treatment options from there.


When you first injure your knee the initial treatment should follow the simple PRICE method as discussed before. These actions, combined with painkillers or anti-inflammatories, help to settle the initial pain and swelling. Further treatment will then depend on the size of the tear, the severity of symptoms, how any persisting symptoms are affecting your life (e.g. a professional footballer trying to return to sport may elect for surgery if the injury is not improving versus an elderly man with little or no pain may choose the conservative route).

Small tears may heal by themselves in time, usually over about six to eight weeks. Even some tears which do not fully heal still do not cause any long-term symptoms once the initial pain and swelling subsides, or may only cause intermittent or mild symptoms. In these cases, surgery may not be needed and it is best to get some physiotherapy to strengthen the supporting structures of the knee, such as the quadriceps and hamstring muscles and make the knee more stable to prevent any further issues or recurrences of the injury. If the tear causes persistent troublesome symptoms then an operation may be advised – although evidence for the benefit of some types of surgery is still variable.

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