What Are the Most Common Causes of Meniscus Tears?

Meniscus tears are a common injury that results in pain and mobility problems for all kinds of people. Although it is often a sports injury, people with physical jobs can also tear their meniscus. Whether you have been diagnosed or are researching potential causes for your injured knee, it is helpful to learn about the meniscus and the factors that can cause meniscal tears. 

Take a moment to read over the following information. The BEST Health System team is here to help you get answers to any questions you have. Please get in touch with a representative at any time. 

What is the meniscus?

Similar to the discs that cushion the bones in the spine, the meniscus is a piece of rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee joint. Each one of your knees has two c-shaped menisci, one on the inside and one on the outside. By transferring weight smoothly between the upper and lower knee joint, the meniscus plays a key role in stabilizing the knee during movement. 

While menisci are designed to be durable and flexible, they still endure a lot of stress. Excessive force or repetitive movements can lead to meniscal tears. The risk of a torn meniscus also increases with age due to natural changes that cause cartilage breakdown. 

Can meniscal tears heal on their own?

Meniscal tears can heal on their own, but that is not always the case and there are a number of factors that determine this. In addition to the overall length and severity of the tear, the biggest indicator for whether a tear on the meniscus will heal is location. The outer portion, or roughly one-third, of each meniscus, is more likely to heal on its own due to receiving a higher degree of blood supply. 

In contrast, the inner two-thirds of the menisci receive less blood and therefore have much more difficulty healing. These inner meniscal tears are much less likely to respond to treatment and require surgical repair. 

Can you walk around with a torn meniscus?

While it is possible to walk after a meniscal tear develops, it is not recommended at all. As with all knee injuries, continuing to walk or put any pressure on the meniscus after a tear develops can only lead to the injury worsening. Whether you have been positively diagnosed with a meniscal tear or just believe you have some kind of knee injury, rest is extremely critical to recovery. 

How do you know if you have a torn meniscus in your knee?

Generally, meniscal tears are diagnosed by doctors after a full examination and diagnostic imagery. There are some common signs of a torn meniscus to watch for, particularly after sudden trauma to the knee joint. 

For example, many athletes report experiencing a sudden pop after an awkward movement change. After the initial injury, the knee joint can become stiff and visibly swollen. Other common symptoms of meniscal tears include:

  • Pain
  • Limited range of motion
  • Popping and grinding sensations
  • Feeling of the knee locking or giving way

What are the most frequent causes of a torn meniscus?

To give you a better understanding of your injured knee is related to a meniscal tear, it can help to learn more about the most common causes. These include: 

  • Sports-related injury — Meniscal tears are very common among athletes, especially in sports that require jumping like basketball or have full contact such as football. However, the meniscus can tear due to any type of trauma or sudden pivoting, from tennis to track and field. 
  • Work-related injury — A torn meniscus can occur in any profession, but the highest risk is in highly physical work, including mail carriers, warehouse workers, construction workers, and factory workers. 
  • Repetitive motion injury — While meniscus tears are most commonly associated with sudden trauma, they can also develop as a result of repetitive stress on the knee joint. Activities such as cycling, jogging, or professions such as plumbing that require frequent knee bending have the potential for meniscal tears, particularly as people get older. 
  • Natural degeneration — The natural aging process is one of the big contributors to meniscal tears. This is because as we get older, our soft tissue dries out and loses elasticity, especially the cartilage. While degeneration is not a direct cause of a torn meniscus, it substantially increases the risk of this injury.  

How do you fix a meniscus tear?

A torn meniscus can either be “fixed” by healing naturally or through surgical repair. Upon diagnosis, if a doctor believes the injured knee has a chance to heal, he or she will prescribe a course rest, activity modification to relieve stress on the knee joint and nonsurgical treatments. 

Patients commonly alternate ice and heat to reduce swelling and improve blood flow, while also elevating the knee. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation. 

Physical therapy can improve strength, stability, and function in the knee joint as the meniscus heals, or after a surgical procedure. A physical therapist can also help address biomechanical issues that may have contributed to the injury. 

If the tear does not respond to initial treatment, or if it is too severe to heal on its own, a surgical procedure can help to repair the meniscal tear and/or remove damaged tissue that is inhibiting knee function. 

Thanks to advances in surgical technology and technique, orthopedic knee procedures can often be performed on an outpatient basis, helping patients avoid the risks and difficulties of hospital-based procedures. 

Reach out to BEST Health System today

To learn how our talented team can help patients dealing with meniscal tears, contact us today. From physical therapy to orthopedic surgery, we can help you develop a treatment plan that gets you back to the active lifestyle you’ve been missing.