Situated in the knee joint between the thighbone and shinbone, the meniscus is a durable piece of cartilage that functions as a shock absorber and provides cushioning while distributing body weight. Each knee has two menisci:
Meniscus damage in the form of a tear can develop due to injuries (sports-related or otherwise) or degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis. As we age, the meniscus is gradually worn down, and injuries can happen more frequently.
Notably, symptoms from degenerative tears that are more common with aging can improve and subside with time. Similarly, before considering surgical options, physicians recommend a conservative treatment approach that includes:
Meniscus tears on the outer edge where the blood flow is higher (red zone) are more responsive to conservative treatment and have a better chance of healing on their own. Conversely, if a tear occurs closer to the meniscus interior where blood supply is decreased (white zone), meniscectomy is usually recommended to alleviate pain and improve mechanical symptoms like joint locking.
To establish the necessary course of treatment, physicians review a patient's symptoms, medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also order MRI imaging or arthroscopically probe the joint to establish the type, shape, location, and extent of the damage.
Diagnosing physicians always consider if meniscal tears can be repaired, as this usually has a better long-term outcome. If repairing the tear is not feasible, possible treatment options include: