Meniscus Tear: Should I Have a Diagnostic Test (MRI or Arthroscopy)? – Health Information Library (2023)

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Meniscus Tear: Should I Have a Diagnostic Test (MRI or Arthroscopy)?

1

Get the
Facts

2

Compare
Options

3

Your
Feelings

4

Your
Decision

5

Quiz
Yourself

6

Your Summary

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have an MRI or arthroscopy to diagnose a torn meniscus.
  • Try home treatment or physical therapy to see if your knee pain goes away.

Key points to remember

  • If your doctor thinks you have a minor meniscus tear and if your symptoms don't bother you too much, you may wait to see if it heals with rest. You may not need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or arthroscopy.
  • If your symptoms are moderate to severe, or if your doctor thinks you have a meniscus tear and other knee injuries, your doctor may recommend either an MRI or arthroscopy. Some doctors prefer to do arthroscopy instead of MRI. Arthroscopy can locate a meniscus tear and treat it at the same time.
  • If your doctor thinks you need surgery to repair the meniscus, it should be done as soon as possible after the injury.

FAQs

What is a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.

What causes a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. Other knee injuries, such as a torn ligament, can happen at the same time. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.

What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?

Symptoms of a meniscus tear depend on the size and location of the tear. They also depend on your age and the health of your knee.

Symptoms may include things like knee pain, swelling, or stiffness. It may be hard to walk. Your knee may feel unstable, or it may be hard to straighten all the way. Or you may feel like your knee "catches" when you move.

Some people have severe pain and swelling right away when the tear happens. Or they might have less pain and swelling at first but then notice that it gets worse over a few days.

Older people sometimes don't notice when the tear happens. But then they notice symptoms later.

How will your doctor diagnose a meniscus tear?

Your doctor will ask how the injury happened and if you have ever had any other knee injuries. Your doctor may also ask you about pain, swelling, locking, or buckling of the knee. You will have a physical exam to find out if you have a torn meniscus and to rule out other knee injuries.

Your doctor will check both knees for tenderness, range of motion, and knee stability. X-rays are usually done. Based on your symptoms and the physical exam, your doctor may diagnose a meniscus tear. They may suggest that you follow up with an orthopedic surgeon, although it is not always needed. Your doctor or the orthopedic surgeon may suggest other tests such as an MRI or arthroscopy.

If your pain is very bad at first, you might go to the emergency room. If your pain is not so bad, you may wait to see if it goes away. Most people go to the doctor when pain and swelling comes back after they use their knee.

What is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that provides pictures of organs, bones, and joints. It makes these images by using a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy. MRI gives a good picture of the size of a meniscus tear and where it is. It also shows ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.

MRIs of the knee are helpful to identify a meniscus tear and to find any related injuries to the ligament, cartilage, and tendons.

What is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a way to find problems and do surgery inside a joint without making a large cut (incision). Your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera—called an arthroscope, or scope—and surgical tools through small incisions.

Your doctor may recommend that you have arthroscopy instead of MRI if they think you might benefit from surgery to repair or remove part or all of your meniscus.

What are discomforts or risks of having an MRI or arthroscopy?

You will not have any side effects from the MRI test. But you may have some discomfort. For example:

  • The table you lie on may be hard, and the room may be chilly.
  • You may have discomfort from lying in one position for a long time.
  • Some people feel worried or anxious inside a standard, closed-type MRI machine. If this keeps you from lying still, you can be given medicine to help you relax. Or you can talk with your doctor about using an open MRI machine, which is less confining than a standard MRI.

Risks of arthroscopy include:

  • Bleeding within the joint.
  • Infection.
  • Blood clotting in your leg.
  • Nerve or joint damage.
  • A rare risk of compartment syndrome if pressure builds within the leg. When this occurs, you need treatment right away to release the pressure.

After arthroscopy, you may have swelling around the incision. This should go away within 2 weeks. It's normal for the site to feel tender for about a week. A small amount of bleeding from the incision is normal. Ask your doctor how much drainage to expect.

It may take several weeks to recover from arthroscopy. Your doctor may give you pain medicine and recommend rehabilitation exercises for you to do while you recover. You may have some soreness and pain after the procedure. You may need to apply ice to the joint and prop up the leg to reduce swelling and pain. Keep the bandages that cover your incision clean and dry.

How is a meniscus tear treated?

How your doctor treats your meniscus tear depends upon the size and location of the tear; when the injury happened; your pain, age, health status, and activity level; and your surgeon's preference. Your treatment choices are:

  • Nonsurgical treatment with rest, ice, compression, elevation, and physical therapy. You may wear a temporary knee brace.
  • Surgical repair to sew the tear together.
  • Partial meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the torn section of the meniscus.
  • Total meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire meniscus. This is generally avoided, because this option increases the risk for osteoarthritis in the knee.

Other knee injuries, such as to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or the medial collateral ligament, may happen at the same time as a meniscus tear. Your doctor may be able to find this out during a physical exam. In these cases, the meniscus tear will be treated as part of the treatment for the other injury.

Why might your doctor recommend having an MRI or arthroscopy?

Your doctor may advise you to have an MRI test or arthroscopy because:

  • Surgery may be an option for you.
  • The test could change your treatment plan.
  • The test could help you decide what kind of surgery to have.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?

What are the benefits?

What are the risks and side effects?

Have an MRI or arthroscopy Have an MRI or arthroscopy

  • An MRI test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but can take as long as 2 hours.
  • During arthroscopy, you may have a general or regional anesthetic. Arthroscopy may take only about 15 minutes, but the whole procedure could take an hour or longer.
  • After arthroscopy, you'll rest your knee for several days, apply ice, and prop up your leg on pillows. You may not be able to drive for 24 hours or longer. Your doctor may give you medicine for pain.
  • With arthroscopy, you'll have swelling around the incision for about 2 weeks. It may take several weeks to fully recover.
  • An MRI test can tell whether you have a meniscus tear or other related injuries, and it can help with treatment decisions.
  • Arthroscopy can identify a meniscus tear and treat it at the same time. It can also see if you have other injuries.
  • You may feel discomfort during the MRI test.
  • You may have an arthroscopy when you didn't need one, because you may feel better over time without the procedure.
  • Risks of arthroscopy include:
    • Bleeding within the joint.
    • Blood clotting in your leg.
    • A rare risk of compartment syndrome if pressure builds inside the leg.
    • Nerve or joint damage.
  • These procedures are expensive.
  • Arthroscopy is surgery. All surgery has risks, including bleeding, infection, and risks related to anesthesia. Your age and your health can also affect your risk.

Try home treatment, and see if knee pain goes away Try home treatment, and see if knee pain goes away

  • You rest and reduce activity. Your doctor may advise you to try crutches or a brace.
  • You use ice for swelling. Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage, and prop up your leg on a pillow when you are lying or sitting down.
  • Your doctor may advise you to do exercises to increase strength and flexibility.
  • You avoid the risks of arthroscopic surgery.
  • You avoid the high cost of an MRI or arthroscopy.
  • If your knee does not get better, you may be able to have surgery later and your meniscus may still heal properly.
  • You may still have knee pain even after this treatment.
  • Without an MRI or an arthroscopy, you may have other knee injuries and not know it.
  • Depending on the size and location of the tear, when the injury happened, and your pain, age, and health, you may still need surgery later.

Personal stories about diagnostic tests for a meniscus tear

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I felt some strain on my knee while I was playing handball 2 weeks ago, and since then I've had swelling and pain on one side of my knee. My doctor thinks I probably have a tear in my meniscus and maybe some other knee damage. I've been using ice and resting my knee a lot, but I've still got quite a bit of pain. My doctor is now recommending that I have an MRI to see what's going on in there. She says that an MRI will give us a good idea of what is injured and will help us make the decision about treatment. I'm going to go ahead and get the MRI.

Ahmed, age 30

I started noticing pain in my knee about 2 months ago, although I can't say what exactly I did to injure it. I can't seem to squat or kneel without increasing the pain. My orthopedic surgeon thinks it might be an age-related degeneration of the meniscus and is recommending that I do physical therapy and avoid painful activities. My doctor said that an MRI might be helpful later if surgery looks like an option. I like this plan to wait before having a test.

Theo, age 60

I was playing with my kids and twisted my knee a few days ago. It's really swollen and painful, and sometimes it feels like it gets stuck. My doctor is pretty sure I have a meniscus tear. She's recommending arthroscopy so she can see exactly what's torn and see if she can repair it at the same time. I don't like the idea of surgery, but I do like the idea of getting it all taken care of at one time.

Letitia, age 33

My knee started hurting the night after I had a strenuous game of pick-up basketball. After my doctor examined me and listened to my description of the game and my symptoms, it didn't take him long to say that he thought it was a meniscus tear. My doctor thinks it's a small tear and recommends that I start rehabilitation soon. Meanwhile, I'm resting my knee and being very careful to avoid any twisting or stress on the knee.

Peter, age 35

(Video) When Surgery is Necessary for Meniscus Tears

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose an MRI or arthroscopy

Reasons to choose home treatment or physical therapy

I'm in a lot of pain, and I want to have arthroscopy so I can start feeling better.

My pain isn't too bad.

More important

Equally important

More important

I'm not worried about being in a confined space during an MRI test.

I don't want to have an MRI test.

More important

Equally important

More important

I'm not worried about the costs for an MRI or arthroscopy.

I'm worried about the costs.

More important

Equally important

More important

I want to have the test if it will help me decide whether or not to have surgery for my torn meniscus.

I know that I don't want to have surgery for any reason.

More important

Equally important

More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important

Equally important

More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

MRI or arthroscopy

Home treatment or physical therapy

Leaning toward

Undecided

Leaning toward

(Video) Meniscal Tears Examination & Tests - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.1, If I have a minor meniscus tear, it may heal by itself with rest.
2.2, Either an MRI or arthroscopy can help me find out if I have a meniscus tear.
3.3, An arthroscopy can find out if I have a meniscus tear AND treat it at the same time.

Decide what's next

1.1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2.2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3.3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all

Somewhat sure

Very sure

2.2, Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act

Patient choices

What matters to you

Print Summary

Credits

Credits

Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Meniscus Tear: Should I Have a Diagnostic Test (MRI or Arthroscopy)?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Have an MRI or arthroscopy to diagnose a torn meniscus.
  • Try home treatment or physical therapy to see if your knee pain goes away.

Key points to remember

  • If your doctor thinks you have a minor meniscus tear and if your symptoms don't bother you too much, you may wait to see if it heals with rest. You may not need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or arthroscopy.
  • If your symptoms are moderate to severe, or if your doctor thinks you have a meniscus tear and other knee injuries, your doctor may recommend either an MRI or arthroscopy. Some doctors prefer to do arthroscopy instead of MRI. Arthroscopy can locate a meniscus tear and treat it at the same time.
  • If your doctor thinks you need surgery to repair the meniscus, it should be done as soon as possible after the injury.

FAQs

What is a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.

What causes a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. Other knee injuries, such as a torn ligament, can happen at the same time. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.

What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?

Symptoms of a meniscus tear depend on the size and location of the tear. They also depend on your age and the health of your knee.

Symptoms may include things like knee pain, swelling, or stiffness. It may be hard to walk. Your knee may feel unstable, or it may be hard to straighten all the way. Or you may feel like your knee "catches" when you move.

Some people have severe pain and swelling right away when the tear happens. Or they might have less pain and swelling at first but then notice that it gets worse over a few days.

Older people sometimes don't notice when the tear happens. But then they notice symptoms later.

(Video) Meniscus Bucket Handle Tear Repair

How will your doctor diagnose a meniscus tear?

Your doctor will ask how the injury happened and if you have ever had any other knee injuries. Your doctor may also ask you about pain, swelling, locking, or buckling of the knee. You will have a physical exam to find out if you have a torn meniscus and to rule out other knee injuries.

Your doctor will check both knees for tenderness, range of motion, and knee stability. X-rays are usually done. Based on your symptoms and the physical exam, your doctor may diagnose a meniscus tear. They may suggest that you follow up with an orthopedic surgeon, although it is not always needed. Your doctor or the orthopedic surgeon may suggest other tests such as an MRI or arthroscopy.

If your pain is very bad at first, you might go to the emergency room. If your pain is not so bad, you may wait to see if it goes away. Most people go to the doctor when pain and swelling comes back after they use their knee.

What is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that provides pictures of organs, bones, and joints. It makes these images by using a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy. MRI gives a good picture of the size of a meniscus tear and where it is. It also shows ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.

MRIs of the knee are helpful to identify a meniscus tear and to find any related injuries to the ligament, cartilage, and tendons.

What is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a way to find problems and do surgery inside a joint without making a large cut (incision). Your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera—called an arthroscope, or scope—and surgical tools through small incisions.

Your doctor may recommend that you have arthroscopy instead of MRI if they think you might benefit from surgery to repair or remove part or all of your meniscus.

What are discomforts or risks of having an MRI or arthroscopy?

You will not have any side effects from the MRI test. But you may have some discomfort. For example:

  • The table you lie on may be hard, and the room may be chilly.
  • You may have discomfort from lying in one position for a long time.
  • Some people feel worried or anxious inside a standard, closed-type MRI machine. If this keeps you from lying still, you can be given medicine to help you relax. Or you can talk with your doctor about using an open MRI machine, which is less confining than a standard MRI.

Risks of arthroscopy include:

  • Bleeding within the joint.
  • Infection.
  • Blood clotting in your leg.
  • Nerve or joint damage.
  • A rare risk of compartment syndrome if pressure builds within the leg. When this occurs, you need treatment right away to release the pressure.

After arthroscopy, you may have swelling around the incision. This should go away within 2 weeks. It's normal for the site to feel tender for about a week. A small amount of bleeding from the incision is normal. Ask your doctor how much drainage to expect.

It may take several weeks to recover from arthroscopy. Your doctor may give you pain medicine and recommend rehabilitation exercises for you to do while you recover. You may have some soreness and pain after the procedure. You may need to apply ice to the joint and prop up the leg to reduce swelling and pain. Keep the bandages that cover your incision clean and dry.

How is a meniscus tear treated?

How your doctor treats your meniscus tear depends upon the size and location of the tear; when the injury happened; your pain, age, health status, and activity level; and your surgeon's preference. Your treatment choices are:

  • Nonsurgical treatment with rest, ice, compression, elevation, and physical therapy. You may wear a temporary knee brace.
  • Surgical repair to sew the tear together.
  • Partial meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the torn section of the meniscus.
  • Total meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire meniscus. This is generally avoided, because this option increases the risk for osteoarthritis in the knee.

Other knee injuries, such as to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or the medial collateral ligament, may happen at the same time as a meniscus tear. Your doctor may be able to find this out during a physical exam. In these cases, the meniscus tear will be treated as part of the treatment for the other injury.

Why might your doctor recommend having an MRI or arthroscopy?

Your doctor may advise you to have an MRI test or arthroscopy because:

  • Surgery may be an option for you.
  • The test could change your treatment plan.
  • The test could help you decide what kind of surgery to have.

2. Compare your options

Have an MRI or arthroscopyTry home treatment, and see if knee pain goes away
What is usually involved?
  • An MRI test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but can take as long as 2 hours.
  • During arthroscopy, you may have a general or regional anesthetic. Arthroscopy may take only about 15 minutes, but the whole procedure could take an hour or longer.
  • After arthroscopy, you'll rest your knee for several days, apply ice, and prop up your leg on pillows. You may not be able to drive for 24 hours or longer. Your doctor may give you medicine for pain.
  • With arthroscopy, you'll have swelling around the incision for about 2 weeks. It may take several weeks to fully recover.
  • You rest and reduce activity. Your doctor may advise you to try crutches or a brace.
  • You use ice for swelling. Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage, and prop up your leg on a pillow when you are lying or sitting down.
  • Your doctor may advise you to do exercises to increase strength and flexibility.
What are the benefits?
  • An MRI test can tell whether you have a meniscus tear or other related injuries, and it can help with treatment decisions.
  • Arthroscopy can identify a meniscus tear and treat it at the same time. It can also see if you have other injuries.
  • You avoid the risks of arthroscopic surgery.
  • You avoid the high cost of an MRI or arthroscopy.
  • If your knee does not get better, you may be able to have surgery later and your meniscus may still heal properly.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You may feel discomfort during the MRI test.
  • You may have an arthroscopy when you didn't need one, because you may feel better over time without the procedure.
  • Risks of arthroscopy include:
    • Bleeding within the joint.
    • Blood clotting in your leg.
    • A rare risk of compartment syndrome if pressure builds inside the leg.
    • Nerve or joint damage.
  • These procedures are expensive.
  • Arthroscopy is surgery. All surgery has risks, including bleeding, infection, and risks related to anesthesia. Your age and your health can also affect your risk.
  • You may still have knee pain even after this treatment.
  • Without an MRI or an arthroscopy, you may have other knee injuries and not know it.
  • Depending on the size and location of the tear, when the injury happened, and your pain, age, and health, you may still need surgery later.

Personal stories

Personal stories about diagnostic tests for a meniscus tear

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I felt some strain on my knee while I was playing handball 2 weeks ago, and since then I've had swelling and pain on one side of my knee. My doctor thinks I probably have a tear in my meniscus and maybe some other knee damage. I've been using ice and resting my knee a lot, but I've still got quite a bit of pain. My doctor is now recommending that I have an MRI to see what's going on in there. She says that an MRI will give us a good idea of what is injured and will help us make the decision about treatment. I'm going to go ahead and get the MRI."

— Ahmed, age 30

"I started noticing pain in my knee about 2 months ago, although I can't say what exactly I did to injure it. I can't seem to squat or kneel without increasing the pain. My orthopedic surgeon thinks it might be an age-related degeneration of the meniscus and is recommending that I do physical therapy and avoid painful activities. My doctor said that an MRI might be helpful later if surgery looks like an option. I like this plan to wait before having a test."

— Theo, age 60

"I was playing with my kids and twisted my knee a few days ago. It's really swollen and painful, and sometimes it feels like it gets stuck. My doctor is pretty sure I have a meniscus tear. She's recommending arthroscopy so she can see exactly what's torn and see if she can repair it at the same time. I don't like the idea of surgery, but I do like the idea of getting it all taken care of at one time."

— Letitia, age 33

"My knee started hurting the night after I had a strenuous game of pick-up basketball. After my doctor examined me and listened to my description of the game and my symptoms, it didn't take him long to say that he thought it was a meniscus tear. My doctor thinks it's a small tear and recommends that I start rehabilitation soon. Meanwhile, I'm resting my knee and being very careful to avoid any twisting or stress on the knee."

— Peter, age 35

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose an MRI or arthroscopy

Reasons to choose home treatment or physical therapy

I'm in a lot of pain, and I want to have arthroscopy so I can start feeling better.

My pain isn't too bad.

More important

Equally important

More important

I'm not worried about being in a confined space during an MRI test.

I don't want to have an MRI test.

More important

Equally important

More important

I'm not worried about the costs for an MRI or arthroscopy.

I'm worried about the costs.

More important

Equally important

More important

I want to have the test if it will help me decide whether or not to have surgery for my torn meniscus.

I know that I don't want to have surgery for any reason.

More important

Equally important

More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

(Video) MENISCUS INJURIES: Common Symptoms and Treatment Options for Knee Pain - Dr. Brett Franklin

More important

Equally important

More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

MRI or arthroscopy

Home treatment or physical therapy

Leaning toward

Undecided

Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. If I have a minor meniscus tear, it may heal by itself with rest.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure

That's right. If you have a minor tear and your symptoms don't bother you too much, you may wait to see if it heals with rest.

2. Either an MRI or arthroscopy can help me find out if I have a meniscus tear.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure

You are right. An MRI or arthroscopy can tell your doctor if you have a meniscus tear and if you have other injuries.

3. An arthroscopy can find out if I have a meniscus tear AND treat it at the same time.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure

You are right. An arthroscopy can identify a meniscus tear and treat it at the same time.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all

Somewhat sure

Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

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Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery & Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

PeaceHealth endeavors to provide comprehensive health care information, however some topics in this database describe services and procedures not offered by our providers or within our facilities because they do not comply with, nor are they condoned by, the ethics policies of our organization.

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Meniscus Tear: Should I Have a Diagnostic Test (MRI or Arthroscopy)? – Health Information Library (1) Meniscus Tear: Should I Have a Diagnostic Test (MRI or Arthroscopy)? – Health Information Library (2)

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(Video) Knee Meniscus Tear Tests and Exercises for Full Recovery

FAQs

What is the best way to diagnose a torn meniscus? ›

MRI . This uses a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of both hard and soft tissues within your knee. It's the best imaging study to detect a torn meniscus.

How accurate is MRI in detecting meniscus tear? ›

In the literature, MRI has been determined to have a sensitivity range of %87 - 97 and a specificity range of %77 - 89 when evaluating medial meniscus lesions; for lateral meniscus lesions, its sensitivity range is %72 - 90 and its specificity range is %87 - 92.5 (11, 12).

Is surgery absolutely necessary for a torn meniscus? ›

Once your doctor has officially diagnosed you for a torn meniscus, they will most likely recommend non-surgical treatments first. However, if those treatments don't work or your injury is too severe, you will require surgery.

When should you consider surgery for meniscus tear? ›

If you have a moderate to large tear at the outer edge of the meniscus (red zone), you may want to think about surgery. These kinds of tears tend to heal well after surgery. If you have a tear that spreads from the red zone into the inner two-thirds of the meniscus (called the white zone ), your decision is harder.

What are 3 signs of a meniscus tear in the knee? ›

Swelling or stiffness. Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee. Difficulty straightening your knee fully. Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it.

Can you walk on a fully torn meniscus? ›

Pain. A torn meniscus usually produces well-localized pain in the knee. The pain often is worse during twisting or squatting motions. Unless the torn meniscus has locked the knee, many people with a torn meniscus can walk, stand, sit, and sleep without pain.

Can meniscus tear be missed on MRI? ›

The sensitivity was significantly lower for tears located in the posterior horn and for vertically oriented tears. Therefore, special attention should be given to the peripheral posterior horns of the meniscus, which are common sites of injury that could be easily missed on MRI.

What is the gold standard for meniscal tear? ›

When injured, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has become the gold standard to diagnose meniscal tears. The information obtained from the MRI helps determine the need for surgical intervention.

Can you have a torn meniscus that doesn't show on MRI? ›

A careful physical exam can usually make the diagnosis of a meniscal tear. A suspected meniscal tear does not usually require an MRI, as most will heal with conservative management. (I refer nearly all to physical therapy rather than the treatments you used, but I won't argue with your success.)

Is there an alternative to surgery for a torn meniscus? ›

Nonsurgical Treatment for a Meniscus Tear

Some meniscus tears improve over time with rest, activity restriction, and keeping the knee and leg elevated when possible. It is particularly important to avoid activities that involve twisting, rotating, or pivoting the knee in any way.

What happens if you don't do meniscus surgery? ›

If not treated, part of the meniscus may come loose and slip into the joint. You may need surgery to restore full knee function. Untreated meniscus tears can increase in size and lead to complications, such as arthritis.

What can be done for a torn meniscus besides surgery? ›

Nonsurgical Treatments for Meniscus Tears
  • Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Your doctor may recommend the RICE regimen—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—to treat a meniscus tear. ...
  • Pain Relief Medications. ...
  • Physical Therapy. ...
  • Corticosteroid Injections. ...
  • Biologic Injections.

Should I have arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn meniscus? ›

For most people who have a symptomatic meniscus tear, arthroscopic surgery is selected to remove or repair the torn tissue. However, if you have arthritis, you may benefit from injection and physical therapy without surgery. Arthroscopy has revolutionized how knee surgery is performed.

How long should you stay off a torn meniscus? ›

If you sit at work, you may be able to go back in 1 to 2 weeks. But if you are on your feet at work, it may take 4 to 6 weeks. If you are very physically active in your job, it may take 3 to 6 months.

How long do you stay in the hospital after meniscus surgery? ›

Arthroscopic meniscus repair typically takes about 40 minutes to perform, and usually you will be able to leave the hospital the same day.

Where do you feel the pain from a torn meniscus? ›

Pain is usually felt in the knee above the meniscus while bearing weight on the affected knee and/or when twisting, turning, or pivoting on the knee, such as while getting in and out of a car. Walking up or down stairs may be particularly painful, and may also cause increased swelling in the knee.

Should someone over 65 have meniscus knee surgery? ›

Research: For many patients who are over 50, arthroscopic meniscus surgery should not be offered. Instead, patients should continue with nonoperative management until total knee replacement is unavoidable.

How long does a torn meniscus take to heal without surgery? ›

Meniscus tears are the most frequently treated knee injuries. Recovery will take about 6 to 8 weeks if your meniscus tear is treated conservatively, without surgery. If your symptoms persist after 3 months or your symptoms become significant, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the tear.

Will a cortisone shot help a torn meniscus? ›

A cortisone injection can effectively reduce pain and inflammation in your knee, as in the case of a torn meniscus. It's only a temporary solution to your pain, though. It can't heal your meniscus and may even delay your healing. It also can't prevent you from injuring it again in the future.

Can you make a meniscus tear worse? ›

The injury won't heal on its own, which means it may continue getting worse without proper care. For example, a partial tear may continue to worsen until it's a complete tear. Continuing to walk on the affected leg can aggravate your symptoms, making pain and stiffness worse in as little as a few days.

Can you live with a torn meniscus? ›

You can live with a meniscus tear,” Dr. Parker says. “And it may heal on its own, or just not cause you problems.” However, you'll know pretty quickly when it is a problem.

Can a meniscus tear be misdiagnosed? ›

Misdiagnosis is common with root tears because they lack some of the typical hallmarks of meniscus injury: locking or catching of the knee or a sudden giving way. "It's not that hard to find the injury," Faucett says, "but until the past few years, there's been little awareness of it, so physicians don't look for it."

What are the 2 test for the meniscus? ›

The Childress (duck waddle) test provokes compressive force on the posterior horn of the meniscus causing pain. The Steinmann I test is carried out with the knee flexed at 90 degrees and a sudden external rotatory force is applied on the tibia to test the medial meniscus. The result is pain along the medial joint line.

What are at least 2 special tests that check for tears in the meniscus? ›

Diagnosis of a meniscal injury by physical exam and special tests, including Apley's grind test and Apley's distraction test, in conjunction with advanced imaging, can guide a physician to provide the correct course of treatment.

Which type of meniscus tears require surgery? ›

Grade 3 meniscus tears usually require surgery, which may include: Arthroscopic repair — An arthroscope is inserted into the knee to see the tear. One or two other small incisions are made for inserting instruments.

How long after a knee injury should you get an MRI? ›

If you have any red flags, then you need an MRI right away. Since most issues get better on their own without medical treatment then if you have no red flags and are within the first 3 weeks after injury then an MRI can wait. If your knee pain is not getting better on its own after three weeks you should see a doctor.

Why is meniscus surgery so painful? ›

That's where – because a portion of the meniscus has been removed, the bones around the knee joint “see” more stress when you walk and they react by becoming very inflamed and can actually at it's worse, cause a stress fracture which is quite painful.

Can you walk immediately after meniscus surgery? ›

Arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus (meniscectomy)

It may take 4-5 months for full healing. The patient should be able to bear weight on the knee while standing or walking, immediately after surgery. Crutches will be necessary for 2-7 days after surgery.

Is walking good to rehab torn meniscus? ›

Benefits of walking after a meniscus tear

A 2015 review of studies spanning 21 years suggests that a faster rehabilitation with full weight bearing and early range of motion exercises might be a good path forward for many people.

Should you avoid walking with a torn meniscus? ›

For most people, it is safe to walk with a torn meniscus. Activities that involve twisting or squatting are more likely to cause pain and discomfort than walking. However, if you find that you experience pain when walking with a meniscus tear, try to rest your knee instead.

How long will I be off work after a knee arthroscopy? ›

Most people can get back to desk work, school or sedentary activity 3 to 5 days after surgery. If your right knee was operated on, it may be up to 2 weeks before the knee is strong enough to hit the brakes to drive safely. For heavy work, it may take 4 to 6 weeks before the leg is strong enough to allow for working.

Can you walk right after arthroscopic knee surgery? ›

If necessary due to pain, patients may opt to use crutches or a walker for a few days after surgery. Once more comfortable, most people are able to walk with a minimal limp within one or two weeks after surgery. Most patients realize a benefit from arthroscopic knee surgery within 4 to 6 weeks.

How long after knee arthroscopy can I drive? ›

Normally, you should refrain from driving for at least 1 week after an arthroscopic knee operation, until the swelling reduces and the knee motion improves, but you should establish with your doctor when it is safe to start driving.

Can a doctor diagnose a torn meniscus without an MRI? ›

You may not need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or arthroscopy. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, or if your doctor thinks you have a meniscus tear and other knee injuries, he or she may recommend either an MRI or arthroscopy. Some doctors prefer to do arthroscopy instead of MRI.

Can you tell if a meniscus is torn without an MRI? ›

A careful physical exam can usually make the diagnosis of a meniscal tear. A suspected meniscal tear does not usually require an MRI, as most will heal with conservative management. (I refer nearly all to physical therapy rather than the treatments you used, but I won't argue with your success.)

Does a torn meniscus hurt constantly? ›

The pain may be sharp or instead it can just be a constant dull ache sensation. It usually hurts more when bending the knee deeply or straightening it fully. It can also hurt when twisting on the knee with your foot fixed on the ground.

What to do if you suspect a torn meniscus? ›

What's the Treatment for a Meniscus Tear?
  1. Rest the knee. ...
  2. Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. ...
  3. Compress your knee. ...
  4. Elevate your knee with a pillow under your heel when you're sitting or lying down.
  5. Take anti-inflammatory medications. ...
  6. Use stretching and strengthening exercises to help reduce stress to your knee.
26 Jan 2022

Will an MRI show a healed meniscus tear? ›

Conclusion: Most peripheral vertical tears at the meniscocapsular junction of the medial meniscus spontaneously heal. The MRI characteristics of tears not located at the meniscocapsular junction can help distinguish between healed and unhealed tears.

How long does it take for a slightly torn meniscus to heal without surgery? ›

Meniscus tears are the most frequently treated knee injuries. Recovery will take about 6 to 8 weeks if your meniscus tear is treated conservatively, without surgery. If your symptoms persist after 3 months or your symptoms become significant, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the tear.

Can I live with a torn meniscus? ›

Not necessarily. Left untreated, a meniscus tear can limit your daily life and ability to participate in exercise and sports. In serious cases, it can develop into long-term knee problems, like arthritis.

Will a cortisone shot Help torn meniscus? ›

A cortisone injection can effectively reduce pain and inflammation in your knee, as in the case of a torn meniscus. It's only a temporary solution to your pain, though. It can't heal your meniscus and may even delay your healing. It also can't prevent you from injuring it again in the future.

How do I know if my meniscus tear is severe? ›

A tear is usually labeled as severe if the meniscus has a big tear. Loose pieces may cause the knee joint to lock or catch. This level of injury may also keep you from bending or straightening your leg and can make walking difficult. Severe tears usually require surgery to repair.

Videos

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2. Meniscus Tear Stretches & Exercises - Ask Doctor Jo
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3. Knee Pain , Meniscus tear - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim
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4. Inside the Operating Room for a Meniscus Repair Surgery
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5. Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Meniscectomy vs Meniscus Repair Dr. Eric Janssen
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6. Physical Therapy Diagnosis and Treatment for Meniscus Tears | Exercises, Case Study | FPF E:26
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