Meniscus injuries are among the most common types of knee injuries. They are typically caused by twisting the knee while it is subject to substantial force. Older people whose meniscuses are already somewhat worn out can injure themselves more easily, and meniscus damage can also develop slowly over time without any specific trigger. Depending on the extent of the damage or injury, the meniscus is treated either conservatively or surgically.
The meniscuses are pieces of cartilage shaped like crescent moons that lie inside the knee joint. They increase the joint’s surface area and help to stabilise the knee. Humans have two meniscuses: a medial meniscus and a lateral meniscus.
Young people typically injure their meniscuses while playing sports that put a lot of pressure on the knees. Older people can develop a damaged meniscus slowly over time due to wear and tear. Chronic incorrect strain on the knees can accelerate the normal ageing process. The medial meniscus is injured slightly more frequently than the lateral meniscus. Men suffer from about twice as many meniscus injuries than women.
Meniscus injuries caused by accidents instantly generate a strong stabbing pain in the knee joint. Sometimes the joint becomes immobile and swollen. If the torn meniscus is caused by many years of use, the pain is usually more diffuse and can radiate into the back of the knee. The pain becomes worse when the knee is subject to pressure or force, such as walking upstairs or bending the knee, but it can also be painful during the night. Occasionally, the chronic form of a torn meniscus can cause short-term joint immobility.
Meniscus injuries are diagnosed through a targeted examination of the knee joint. If the examination confirms that there is meniscus damage, an MRI is carried out to precisely determine the extent of the tear.
Minor meniscus injuries or damage resulting from everyday wear and tear, and which only cause low-level symptoms, can be treated conservatively. Conservative treatment includes medication to relieve pain and inflammation, as well as targeted physiotherapeutic exercises designed to strengthen the muscles and stabilise the joint.
Surgery is necessary for larger meniscus tears, or if the torn parts of the meniscus are located inside the joint. The operation is performed arthroscopically through a small incision in the skin. Find out more about the surgical treatment options in the knee joint imaging section.