Guide to NFL Injuries: Meniscus tears

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Along with ACL injuries, meniscus tears are also very common in sports, only these damage cartilage rather than ligaments. “Torn cartilage” also results from extreme force being placed on the knees, whether it be from sharp cutting movements while running, pivoting on the knee, or heavy traumatic blows during tackles. Athletic injuries tend to be the result of one of the aforementioned traumas. However, in older patients, meniscus tears tend to stem from degenerative changes to the knee and are accompanied by some arthritis.

The knee cartilage called the menisci (pl) run along two C-shaped paths between the femur and tibia at the junction that forms the knee. For a while, there was some question as to the exact role the meniscus plays. Researchers believe that the cartilage functions to transfer load transmission between the joints, provide stability, absorb shocks, and lubricate joints.

Failure to adequately address meniscus tears can result in osteoarthritis to develop in the damaged knee.


A torn meniscus can have numerous symptoms. These include a popping sensation at the time of injury; swelling or stiffness after the trauma; pain when twisting or rotating the knee; difficulty straightening the knee; the feeling that the knee joint is locked in place.


A torn meniscus is normally diagnosed during a physical exam where the doctor moves the knee in various directions, watches the patient walk and perform squats. Imaging tests include X-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). In some cases, arthroscopy can be used. Tears fall under various categories: radial tears; flap or parrot-beak tears; peripheral, longitudinal tears; bucket-handle tears; horizontal cleavage tears; and complex, degenerative tears.


Depending on the origin and degree of injury, different therapies are involved. For tears that do not restrict knee movement, improvement comes with rest, OTC pain medication, and physical therapy to strengthen the area. Serious injuries require surgery followed by physical therapy.


Physical therapy post-injury entails strengthening the muscles around the knee and in the legs to provide stability.

IMAGE CREDIT: Creative Commons

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