Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. A meniscus tear is a common knee injury that happens when one or more of the fibrocartilage strips in the knee (called menisci) is stretched or torn. Meniscus tears can happen during sports or even during simple daily activities such as walking or lifting something heavy. They are usually caused by twisting or turning quickly. 

When doctors and patients talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are actually referring to an injury to a meniscus between the two bones of the knee.

If you have -- or suspect you have -- a meniscus tear, you should know that some of the best nationally and internationally known knee surgeons in the country are at the University of Michigan Health System. We have successfully treated hundreds of patients with meniscus tears. We prefer to treat first with non-surgical treatments. But if you do need surgery, our surgeons are experts in the latest surgical techniques, including minimally invasive and computer-aided surgery as well as rare surgeries that are done at few hospitals.

Tears can occur in children as well as adults. Almost all tears in children can be repaired if treated early. Many tears in adults do not need surgery. 

Our goal is to reduce your pain, get you mobile again and help you maintain good knee health.


The severity of your symptoms will depend upon the severity of your meniscus tear. Some typical symptoms include:

  • A popping sound when the tear happened
  • Noisy joints
  • Pain 
  • Swelling
  • Unstable feeling near the affected area 


When you come to the University of Michigan:

  • We will take your complete medical history, ask you about your pattern of symptoms and conduct a physical exam.
  • We may conduct tests such as X-rays and may need to order an MRI.

Then we will use this information to develop an individualized treatment plan for you. 


Non-surgical Treatment

Treatment will depend upon the severity of the tear as well as your pain level, age, activity level and when the injury occurred. Many meniscus tears require only the RICE treatment (which means rest, ice, compression and elevation) for comfort until you see a healthcare professional. Your doctor may also want you to have physical therapy and/or a knee brace. 

Surgical Treatment 

If your injury is severe or isn't responding to treatment -- or if you're extremely active (perhaps you work in a profession that requires you to use your knee in a way that provokes your meniscus, such as athletics) -- we may recommend surgery. We also take into consideration the location of the tear and your overall health. We use minimally invasive arthroscopy rather than through a large cut in the knee. 

We do several meniscus tear surgeries, including:

  • Meniscal repair (sewing the tear together) - This is typically more successful in patients 40 and younger, and it's the best treatment for athletes and people who are physically active. 
  • Meniscal transplantation - This is a good option when a meniscus is completely removed. We obtain the meniscus (allograft) from a donor through a tissue bank. 
  • Osteochrondral allograft reconstruction - We can reconstruct part of the knee by using tissue and muscle from a donor. 
  • Partial meniscectomy - We remove only the torn section of the meniscus
  • Total meniscectomy - We rarely remove the entire meniscus. We like to avoid this surgery because it may increase the risk for osteoarthritis later on, but in cases where it is necessary, it works well. 

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

  • Orthopaedics, 734-936-5780
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), 734-936-7175

Selecting a health care provider is a very important decision. Because we are highly experienced in treating meniscus tears, we would like to help you explore your options. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of Musculoskeletal Call Centers. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help.