A meniscus tear is a split or rip in the thick, C-shaped cartilage that is located in the knee. There are two types of this cartilage, which is positioned between a person’s femur, or thighbone, and the tibia, a bone in the shin. The meniscus that is located on the inner knee is called the medial meniscus. The cartilage that rests on the outside is called the lateral meniscus. A torn lateral meniscus is a tear that affects this outer cartilage.
The lateral meniscus, like the medial meniscus, has an important job to do. It helps to distribute a person’s weight over his knee joint and provide stability to the knee. If this cartilage were absent, a person’s weight would be applied unevenly to his femur and tibia, putting excess stress on the bones and the knee joint. This could result in the development of arthritis of the knee, a condition marked by pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Lateral meniscus tears are less likely to occur than medial meniscus injuries, but twisting movements and blows to the knee can cause this cartilage to tear. When this occurs, torn lateral meniscus symptoms may include pain and tenderness, swelling, and a popping or clicking sound at the time of the injury. There are different types of tears that may affect this area, though the symptoms remain the same regardless of the type of tear. A longitudinal tear occurs along the length of the meniscus while a bucket-handle tear involves a tear and detachment of part of the meniscus. The detached area forms a flap of cartilage that may resemble the handle of a bucket.
If a person suspects he has a torn lateral meniscus, he should see a doctor for diagnosis. The doctor may recommend either conservative or surgical treatment. Conservative treatment of this type of tear includes medication to control pain and inflammation. The affected individual may use ice, a compression bandage, and possibly even a knee brace to control swelling and keep the area stable. A doctor may recommend therapeutic exercises once the pain has subsided.
A more serious torn lateral meniscus may be treated with surgery to repair or replace the cartilage. Depending on the particulars of the tear, a surgeon may stitch the torn lateral meniscus back together again. Sometimes the meniscus is removed and replaced with a donor meniscus. This procedure is called meniscus transplantation.