The most common symptom of a meniscus tear is knee pain; although it can be caused by a number of different injuries or conditions, therefore, we recommend you seek a medical professionals diaganosis before you begin treating any symptoms.
All symptoms of a meniscus tear can be aggravated by walking with a bent knee or when pointing your foot. These symptoms include:
- Pain worsening with use
- Stiffness and weakness
- Degeneration of the knee joint over time
- Grinding, popping, clicking, locking
If you experience a meniscus injury, pain can either be gradual or immediate depending on how severely the damage to the meniscus is and/or how quickly it happened. Often you will feel pain and tenderness in your joint, especially when you touch your knee with slight pressure. If you have a tear, you will usually feel a sharp pain along the joint line in the area of your tear (usually the inside or outer part of the knee). Pain in the middle of your knee often indicates a medial meniscus tear. In some cases you may even experience pain throughout your entire knee joint.
Pain Worsens With Use
Pain will become worse when you try to bend, straighten or twist your knee, during or after exercise (especially activities involving deep knee bends) and sometimes even just by putting weight on your knee. Your doctor may recommend that you use a crutch or cane to minimize the load placed on your torn meniscus to alleviate pain and further damage while you are trying to heal.
Stiffness and Weakness
You may find that your range of motion is limited and that you are not able to bend or straighten your knee all the way. You may also experience abuckling or weakness in your knee that 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 joint resulting in poor stability.
Degeneration of the Joint
Once injured, the meniscus is more susceptible to slowly wearing away with regular knee movements. When this happens more friction occurs against the articular cartilage and this cartilage wears away from the surface of the femur and tibia. With less protective covering, the joint begins to deteriorate. If your knee tissue begins to degenerate you have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis(degenerative arthritis) over time.
You will experience swelling either immediately if your blood vessels are disrupted because of a traumatic event, or within 12 hours after the tear occurs. Swelling over time or recurring 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”).
Grinding, Popping, Clicking, or Locking
These symptoms can range from being annoying to downright painful and can last a few seconds or be persistent for a few weeks. Joint locking occurs when the fragment of torn meniscus does not work its way out of being lodged between your femur and tibia resulting in an inability to straighten or bend your knee. This can be painful and may cause weakness in the knee. You may have to manually move or manipulate your knee to get relief and you will feel a click or snap when it eventually unlocks.
Stages of Symptoms
There tend to be 4 stages of symptoms dependent on the type of meniscus injury you experience.
If you have a minor tear 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, 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 without proper treatment. If a meniscus tear goes untreated, the situation can lead to a complete tear and long-term damage.
Should you seek medical attention?
It is recommended that you see a physician with any continued discomfort and/or pain in your knee or if you experience any of the symptoms below:
- Increased or constant instability or inflammation of the knee (swelling, pain, heat or redness) that lasts longer than 2-3 days.
- Locking, catching or buckling of your knee on a regular basis, or very limited range of motion (can’t fully extend, bend or rotate your knee or lower leg).
- Constant clicking, popping or grinding sounds in your knee.
- Unable to participate in activities or work due to the pain or limited range of motion.
- Knee looks deformed or you have significant bruising around the joint.
- A traumatic accident may have broken or dislocated a bone.
- Any other unusual symptoms.
Meniscus Tear and Knee Pain Treatments
It is the blood in your body that heals and repairs damage to your tissue. By transporting oxygen and nutrients to the damaged tissue and flushing away dead cells, your blood helps your body to heal itself. Unfortunately, when a meniscus injury occurs and you have knee pain you need to prevent further injury and rest the area to allow it to heal. By resting, you actually limit the flow of blood and slow the healing process. The trick is to slow tissue damage, reduce scar tissue, and generate blood flow to speed healing and prevent further damage.