Meniscus tear of the knee

A torn meniscus is a relatively common condition which may require surgery. The meniscus is the ‘shock absorbing’ cartilage in the knee joint between the bones, and damage or tears to the meniscus can occur as the result of an injury.

When you have suffered an injury to the knee, either twisting or an impact, your meniscus may become damaged or torn. Sometimes a minor tear will heal with rest; other, more serious damage may need to be treated during surgery.

A torn meniscus can cause swelling, pain and discomfort, as well as difficulty in moving the joint. In some instances the damage may cause a piece of the meniscus to break loose and catch in the knee joint, causing it to lock up.

Your surgeon will recommend the treatment that’s best for you. A number of factors will be taken into account including where the tear is and the extent of the damaged tissue. Some parts of the meniscus respond well to surgery because they are well supplied with blood which aids healing. Other areas have less blood supply and satisfactory healing is less certain.

A meniscus tear or other meniscus damage can occur after twisting the knee joint or after an impact to the knee. This causes pain, swelling and sometimes locking of the knee or an inability to straighten it.

Symptoms of a torn meniscus include pain and swelling in the knee joint, and difficulty bending the joint.

You are likely to experience pain in the knee joint which will also be swollen. You may have experienced a ‘popping’ sensation when the injury itself occurred. Initially, the pain may not be extreme but, once the joint becomes inflamed then the pain will worsen.

You may experience difficulty in bending or straightening the joint, which may ‘lock’ in place, as well as:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • a popping sensation when the injury occurred
  • inability to bend or straightening the joint
  • your knee ‘locks’ in place

Your doctor should be able to diagnose the condition after an examination of your knee and by understanding the cause of the symptoms. You may need to have further tests such as X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to rule out other possible conditions and to identify the precise problem.


An X-ray is used to diagnose and explore a wide variety of conditions mostly in the bones and joints, but can sometimes look at problems affecting soft tissues. They can also be used to monitor on-going conditions.

MRI scan

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a special technique that uses powerful magnets, radio waves and computers to produce detailed images (or scans) of the inside of your body.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.