A symptom is an abnormality that you recognize yourself (for example pain or tenderness in your knee). Everyone’s experience is different; therefore symptoms are subjective and based on an individual basis.
If you experience a meniscus injury, pain can either be gradual or immediate depending on how severely you damaged your meniscus and/or how quickly it happened. Often you will feel pain and tenderness in your joint, especially when touched. If you have a tear, you will feel a sharp pain along the joint line in the area of your tear (it will be especially strong when your knee is straightened). Pain in the middle of your knee often indicates a medial meniscus tear. You will feel it during or after exercise (especially activities involving deep knee bends) or trauma.
Swelling will occur either immediately if your blood vessels are disrupted because of a traumatic event, or within 12 hours after your joint tissues become inflamed. Swelling over time is a result of synovial fluid filling the joint cavity, as your body tries to protect itself (this is often called “water on the knee”).
Stiffness will be experienced with swelling, which will limit your range of motion so that you are not able to bend or straighten your knee all the way.
You may also experience a buckling or weakness in your knee. Buckling or giving-way of the knee joint happens when a torn meniscus fragment slips out of being lodged between your bones. A reflex relaxation of the thigh muscles creates weakness in your knee, which results in less stability.
Other common symptoms are frequent grinding, clicking, popping or locking within your knee. These can range from being annoying to downright painful and can last a few seconds or be persistent for a few weeks. Joint locking when the meniscus fragment does not work its way out of being lodged between your bones, results in an inability to straighten or bend your knee. This generally happens at approximately 20-45% of joint extension. You will feel a click or snap when it eventually unlocks. You may have to manually move or manipulate your knee to get relief.
All of the above symptoms can be aggravated by walking with a bent knee or pointed foot.
There tend to be 4 stages of symptoms dependent on the type of meniscus injury you experience.
If you have a minor tear or deterioration you will often experience pain and slight swelling within the first 12 hours of noticing the discomfort. These symptoms often go away within a 2 – 3 week period.
If you have a moderate tear you will often have pain near the location of your meniscus tear (usually in the center or at the side of your knee), especially when twisting or squatting. Swelling will generally increase over 2 – 3 days, as will your stiffness, which will result in a limited range of motion when bending your knee. Symptoms will eventually go away but will tend to recur with minor twisting or overuse.
If you have a severe tear, pieces of torn meniscus can move into your joint space and lead to a locked knee that is very swollen, stiff and painful. These symptoms come on quite quickly. Bruising and swelling with severe pain within minutes of an injury, generally indicate a tear of your ligament as well as your meniscus.
If you suffer from a degenerative tear, it may not have resulted from one specific incident, but rather wear and tear over the years. You also may not recall when or how your symptoms started, however it is often from a squatted position. Pain and minimal swelling are often the only signs you will experience, which last indefinitely. You may also have some knee grinding or catching, depending on the extent of the degeneration.
Although your symptoms may disappear on their own, they often carry-on or return and eventually require some form of treatment. If symptoms are allowed to prolong, the situation can lead to a complete tear and long-term damage.