What Is Meniscus Tear?

Meniscus injury

A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Athletes, especially those that play in contact sports, are at risk for meniscal tears.

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between the shinbone (tibia) and thighbone (femur). Each knee has two menisci. Also referred to as a cartilage tear, a meniscus tear can occur as a result of a forceful twist or rotation of the knee. In older adults, degeneration in the knee can contribute to the risk of a torn meniscus.


Meniscal tears do not always cause symptoms or problems. In some cases, there may be severe pain and a popping sensation when the injury occurs. Other times the swelling within the knee joint may take a few hours to develop. Depending on the amount of pain and fluid accumulation, this may cause the knee to become difficult to move.

In some situations, the amount of swelling may not necessarily be enough to notice and the patient does not become aware of the injury until symptoms develop later.

Symptoms and signs of a meniscus tear:

  • A popping sensation when the injury occurs
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Pain, especially when twisting or rotating the knee
  • Difficulty fully straightening the knee
  • "Locked" feeling when trying to move the knee

Treatment at Penn

Treatment typically begins conservatively with rest, ice and medication (over-the-counter pain medications). If the knee improves, physical therapy will likely be prescribed to help strengthen the leg muscles around the knee. If the knee remains painful or stiff, surgery is recommended.

Penn Programs & Services for Meniscus Tear

Sports Rehabilitation

Penn Medicine’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department diagnoses and treats a variety of sports-related injuries.

Knee Pain

From your first appointment through rehabilitation, our orthopaedic team is here to serve your needs, developing a personalized treatment plan specifically for you and your knee pain.

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