A meniscal tear is a tear through the substance of the meniscus, the shock absorber of the knee.

Page updated January 2024 by Dr Sheila Strover (Clinical Editor)

longitudinal tear of the knee meniscus
An example of a longitudinal tear or circumferential tear of the meniscus.


How do meniscal tears happen?

Although the meniscus can become degenerate with age, usually a tear is a result of an injury. This may be a blow on the side of the knee, or a non-contact injury like twisting the body while the foot is on the ground, such as kicking a ball.

  • Quote:

    "Not all meniscal tears are correctly attributable to an acute injury: degenerated meniscal cartilage may fail under simple load conditions. By contrast, resilient meniscal tissue will tear only with substantial trauma."

    Citation: Bernstein J. In brief: meniscal tears. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2010 Apr;468(4):1190-2. doi: 10.1007/s11999-010-1253-4. PMID: 20146036; PMCID: PMC2835599.

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Diagnosing a meniscus tear

mcmurray test
Most tests of for meniscal tears involve trying to elicit a painful click in the joint.


  • Quote:

    "...physical examination is a useful and important diagnostic technique and is as reliable as MRI to diagnose meniscal tears. We recommend the use of MRI for more doubtful, difficult and complex knee injuries."

    Citation: Mohan BR, Gosal HS. Reliability of clinical diagnosis in meniscal tears. Int Orthop. 2007 Feb;31(1):57-60. doi: 10.1007/s00264-006-0131-x. Epub 2006 Apr 22. PMID: 16633811; PMCID: PMC2267536.



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Options for management of meniscal tears

A small meniscus tear of the inner rim may be of little consequence. Larger tears may disrupt the mechanics of the meniscus by damaging the integrity of the fibre bundles. The surgeon may use his discretion as to whether the damaged part should be removed (meniscectomy) or repaired, but this will usually depend upon the location of the tear and the nature of the tear.

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Forum discussions

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torn meniscus
meniscus tear