Understanding Different Types of Meniscus Tears and How to Treat Them

Older man sits on fence examining and touching left knee with right hand

Different types of tears can occur in an area of the knee called the meniscus. Tears may result from traumatic injuries or degenerative changes that take place during the process of aging. Torn meniscus symptoms include popping sensations, swelling, stiffness, and a sense of instability or feeling like the knee might ‘give out’. If you experience pain when bending or rotating the knee, or feel that it sometimes locks up and won’t straighten, a torn meniscus may be the problem.

The experienced team at Reflex Knee Specialists can provide a thorough examination and determine if a tear is present. Once the diagnosis is made, your Reflex provider will discuss treatment options and make recommendations based on findings. Here, we discuss the different types of meniscus tears and how we treat them.


What Is the Meniscus?

In the knee, the meniscus provides a cushion between the femur and tibia, which are the main two bones that join at the knee. Consisting of fibro-cartilage, there are two C-shaped menisci in each knee. They are key to stability during movement, absorbing shocks when we walk, run, jump, and turn.


How Do Meniscus Tears Differ?

Meniscus tears are classified by their shape, as well as the particular area of the meniscus that is affected. Torn meniscus symptoms are fairly common, and treatment may depend on the specific type of tear. The different types of meniscal tears include:

  • Longitudinal: Runs perpendicular to the shinbone and parallel to the meniscus
  • Horizontal: Runs parallel to the shinbone and is often degenerative in nature
  • Radial: May run perpendicular to shinbone and meniscus
  • Complex: A combination of types of tears
  • Bucket-handle: A large longitudinal tear that may impact knee flexion or extension
  • Parrot-beak: Semi-detached fragments of radial tears
  • Flap: Semi-detached fragments related to horizontal tears


What Treatments Are Available for Torn Meniscus Symptoms?

At Reflex Knee Specialists, we recommend conservative, nonsurgical treatment for most meniscal tears. By utilizing dynamic ultrasound testing during a physical examination, our experienced medical providers can often determine if a tear is present. Since ultrasound is unable to see the inner portion of the meniscus since bone blocks the sound waves, an MRI may be needed to further define the size, shape, and location of the tear. After gaining a clear understanding of how the meniscal tear is impacting knee funtion, treatment recommendations may include:

Because the outer area of the meniscus receives a blood supply, tears that are located in these areas may heal with nonsurgical treatments. PRP treatments provide biological growth factors that stimulate proliferation of meniscal cells, which may result in increased tissue stability. Physical therapy will help strengthen the muscles supporting the knee. Glute and hip strengthening help improve balance, as well. These treatments will aid the overall health and strength of the patient and help recover from the torn meniscus.

When there is limited range of motion due to a torn meniscus, surgical intervention may be required. In these cases, the increased strength and mobility gained through physical therapy exercises often helps patients recover from surgery more quickly.


When Is Surgery Recommended for Torn Meniscus Symptoms?

The inner area of the meniscus does not receive a vascular blood supply, which means tears located in this area will not heal. When torn meniscus symptoms persist and don’t respond to nonsurgical treatments, surgery may be prescribed. The most common procedures are arthroscopic, which is accomplished with the use of a small camera inserted into the knee. Most often, surgeons trim away the damaged tissue; actual repair of the meniscus is performed in less than 5% of patients who have meniscal surgery. The providers at Reflex Knee Specialists can refer patients to qualified orthopedic surgeons when necessary.


Schedule an Examination with Reflex Knee Specialists

When your knees don’t function properly and cause you pain, it’s time to schedule an examination with an experienced and qualified medical provider. The team at Reflex Knee Specialists offers nonsurgical treatments to aid the healing of torn meniscus symptoms from our offices in Portland, Oregon; Bellevue, Washington; and Tempe, Arizona. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and to learn more about meniscus tears.

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