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Diagnosing Meniscus Tears

NYU Langone doctors are experienced in diagnosing meniscus tears. The meniscus is the piece of crescent-shaped cartilage in the knee joint that acts as a cushion between the shinbone, called the tibia, and the thighbone, called the femur. You have two menisci in each knee, and both are attached to the top of the tibia.

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The menisci distribute weight and absorb shock in the knee joint when you move. A meniscus tear can be painful and interfere with your ability to walk and participate in physical activities such as running and playing sports.

Doctors describe meniscus tears as degenerative or traumatic. Degenerative tears, which tend to occur in people who are middle-aged and older, result from years of physical stress weakening the meniscus. This type of tear is often associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Traumatic tears, which are common in athletes, tend to occur after a sharp or sudden twisting of the knee when the foot is planted on the floor.

While diagnosing meniscus tears, doctors also consider the pattern, or shape, of the tear to determine the best treatment approach. They also consider how good the blood supply is to the area of the meniscus tear. The meniscus has a blood supply only at its periphery, meaning its edge. Blood brings oxygen and other vital nutrients to tissues, enabling them to heal. A good blood supply to a meniscus tear may make it amenable to repair.

Symptoms of Meniscus Tears

Symptoms of meniscus tears include pain, stiffness, and swelling in the knee, especially after weight-bearing or twisting activities. Locking or catching of the knee when walking or the feeling of the knee “giving way” is also common. The range of motion of the knee joint and your gait may also be affected.

Diagnostic Tests for Meniscus Tears

Our doctors use a physical exam and imaging tests to determine whether a meniscus tear is causing your symptoms.

Physical Exam

During a physical exam, your doctor may observe the way you walk and then touch and press on the knee to check for discomfort and tenderness, evaluate the range of motion of the knee joint, and ask about your symptoms and physical activity.

Imaging Tests

An X-ray helps your doctor determine whether there is another cause of pain, such as osteoarthritis, or a problem with the alignment of the leg bones and knee joint that needs to be corrected along with the meniscus tear. Your doctor may also recommend an MRI to help detect whether you have another type of injury that may be causing knee pain.

An MRI may further help your doctor determine whether you have a meniscus tear; define the tear pattern, severity, and location; and whether the tear has a good blood supply. This information enables your doctor to determine whether the tear can be repaired with surgery or would benefit from nonsurgical treatment options.

Our Research and Education in Meniscus Tears

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.