A meniscus tear is a common injury that damages the rubbery cushion of the knee joint. This tissue is made of two disks, which are called the medial meniscus and the lateral meniscus.

These crescent-shaped menisci (plural of meniscus) act as shock absorbers to evenly distribute weight across the knee. Meniscus tears often happen when the knee twists as the foot remains firmly planted on the ground. This type of injury often occurs during sports, such as tennis or skiing.

Tears can also occur from breakdown (degeneration) of the menisci. Degeneration is the weakening of tissue from the normal wear and tear of aging. In people older than 40, a tear may occur from an everyday movement, such as rising from a squatting position.

The main symptom of a meniscus tear is pain from swelling and damage to surrounding tissues. Pain at the inside of the knee can indicate a tear to the inner (medial) meniscus, while pain at the outer side of the affected knee may indicate a tear to the outer (lateral) meniscus.

The pattern of the tear may determine whether a tear can be repaired. Horizontal and flap tears generally require surgical removal of at least part of the meniscus.

Tears on the outside of the meniscus heal faster than those in the inside the knee.

As we work with an increased aging population of injured workers, it is imperative to understand the importance of the degenerative processes and the effects this may have on recovery time and the plan of care.

Author: Deborah Goza, MS, RN, COHNS, CCM
Edited By: Lisa Perry