Tears to the meniscus of the knee, which are commonly referred to as the knee cartilages, cause knee pain and possibly locking and giving way of the knee joint.

A tear of the knee cartilages is one of the most common knee injuries seen in the orthopaedic clinic

The Knee Cartilages

Commonly known as the knee cartilages, the two horseshoe shaped pieces of cartilage that sit on top of the shin bone in the knee joint are properly called the knee meniscus.

There are two knee cartilages: the medial meniscus sits on the inside of the knee joint and the lateral meniscus sits on the outside of the knee joint.

Both are attached to the tibia by strong ligaments. The medial meniscus is tethered more tightly than the lateral, meaning it has less freedom of movement, and consequently the medial meniscus is more likely to get injured.

Knee Injuries Involving the Knee Cartilages

In younger people, the knee cartilage is normally injured by a single incident where the body twists on a fixed foot.

Classic scenarios are the footballer who goes in for a tackle and the foot is blocked; a dancer who pirouettes, but the foot stays fixed on the floor; or a runner who puts their foot in a pothole and consequently falls and twists. There will usually be immediate knee pain.

If the injury involves a tear to the medial meniscus after the injury the knee may lock, where it gets stuck in one position and can be neither bent nor straightened, or give way where the knees unexpectedly buckles and fails to hold weight. Both knee locking and giving way happen when there is a cartilage tear which gets in the way of the mechanism of knee bending and straightening.

Injuries to the lateral meniscus usually cause knee pain, but do not usually cause the knee to lock or give way.

As the human body ages, the knee cartilages dry out and become more brittle. In this situation there does not need to be a dramatic injury to cause a tear to the meniscus. A study published in Acta Orthopaedic Scandanavia in 1994 showed that 91% of people with osteoarthritis in their knee also have degenerative tears to their meniscus.

Treatment for Torn Meniscus of the Knee

Degenerative tears of the meniscus may respond to conservative non-surgical treatment, including physiotherapy for pain relief and knee strengthening exercises or injection.

Ice can give pain relief and reduce swelling

The outer part of the meniscus has some blood supply, which means it has some capacity for healing and repair. When I had y bad knee, I used a knee pain home therapy kit, which helped tremendously.

Large frank tears of the meniscus, especially those which are causing significant knee pain, or causing the knee to lock and give way require surgical treatment.

Surgery is keyhole and carried out by arthroscopy. The knee meniscus may be removed, the tear trimmed out, or the tear could be repaired.