Torn Meniscus

What Is It?

A meniscus is a disk-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber inside a joint. Each knee has one lateral meniscus under the outer knob of the thighbone and one medial meniscus under the inner knob of the thighbone. Each meniscus acts as a natural cushion between the thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). The two cushions prevent excess wear and tear inside the knee joint by keeping the ends of the two bones from rubbing together. Each meniscus also absorbs much of the shock of jumps and landings and helps to distribute joint fluid evenly to lubricate and nourish the knee.

In the United States, a torn meniscus is the most common reason for knee surgery.


The symptoms of a torn meniscus can include:

  • Knee pain, usually on one side of your knee

  • Tenderness at the side of the joint

  • Knee swelling within the first 12 hours after injury

  • A "locked" knee that can't be bent

  • A knee that catches during movement, or can't be fully straightened

  • A click, pop or grinding inside your knee when you move it

  • A knee that buckles, gives way or feels generally weak


Your doctor will inspect both your knees to compare your injured knee with your uninjured one. He or she will check your injured knee for signs of swelling, tenderness and fluid inside the knee joint. If your knee is not locked, the doctor will bend your injured knee and check for clicks, snaps and "catches" within the joint. Your doctor also will evaluate your knee's range of motion and will maneuver your knee to see whether your meniscus is sensitive to pressure. For example, in the "McMurray test," the doctor bends the leg at the knee, and then rotates it inward or outward while straightening it. If you feel pain during this test or if there is a "click" sound as your leg rotates, there is a good chance that your meniscus is torn.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »