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Understanding Different Types of Meniscus Tears

Meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries, affecting athletes and non-athletes alike. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage in your knee that acts as a cushion between your thighbone and shinbone. Meniscus tears can occur due to sudden twisting or turning movements, especially during sports activities, or gradually from aging and wear and tear.


At Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery (VSON), our expert team of orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Cunningham, Dr. Joseph, Dr. Seiter, and Dr. Sterett, specializes in diagnosing and treating various types of meniscus tears. Understanding the different types of meniscus tears and the appropriate meniscus tear test is crucial for effective treatment and recovery.


Types of Meniscus Tears


  1. Radial Tear: Radial tears are one of the most common types of meniscus tears. They occur in the inner portion of the meniscus and can disrupt the cartilage's ability to absorb shock. These tears often require surgical intervention, as they typically do not heal well on their own.

  2. Horizontal Tear: Horizontal tears split the meniscus parallel to its tibial surface. They can cause the meniscus to form a flap, leading to catching or locking sensations in the knee. This type of tear may be treated conservatively or surgically, depending on its severity and the patient's symptoms.

  3. Bucket Handle Tear: A bucket handle tear is a severe form of horizontal tear where a portion of the meniscus is displaced into the knee joint, causing the knee to lock. This type of tear often requires prompt surgical repair to restore knee function and alleviate symptoms.

  4. Flap Tear: Flap tears create a loose piece of cartilage that can move around within the knee joint, causing pain and swelling. These tears can often be treated with arthroscopic surgery to remove the loose flap and smooth out the meniscus.

  5. Complex Tear: Complex tears involve multiple tear patterns in the meniscus and are usually a combination of radial, horizontal, and flap tears. Treatment options for complex tears depend on the extent of the damage and the patient's activity level and symptoms.


Meniscus Tear Test


Accurate diagnosis of meniscus tears is essential for effective treatment. The meniscus tear test, also known as the McMurray test, is a common physical examination technique used by our sports medicine specialists to detect the presence of meniscus tears. During this test, the knee is bent, then straightened and rotated to put tension on the meniscus. Pain or a clicking sound during this maneuver can indicate a tear.


In addition to the McMurray test, imaging studies such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are often employed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the specific type of meniscus tear.


Treatment Options for a Meniscus Tear


Treatment for meniscus tears varies based on the type, size, and location of the tear, as well as the patient's age, activity level, and symptoms. At VSON, our experienced physicians, including Dr. Cunningham, Dr. Joseph, Dr. Seiter, and Dr. Sterett, tailor treatment plans to each patient's unique needs.


  • Conservative Treatments: These may include rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE), physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling.

  • Surgical Treatments: In cases where conservative treatments are ineffective, or the tear is severe, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended. This minimally invasive procedure allows the surgeon to repair or remove the damaged portion of the meniscus.


Keeping You Active


At Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, our team of highly skilled orthopedic surgeons are dedicated to providing the best care for meniscus tears and other knee injuries. If you suspect you have a meniscus tear or are experiencing knee pain, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists today. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to a full recovery and returning to the activities you love.


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