Ouch!! My knee hurts – it pops, locks up and gives out. Do I have a torn meniscus?

Knee pain is a very common problem for patients who come to my office.  There are a lot of things that can cause knee pain.  One of the more frequent causes of knee pain is a torn cartilage, also known as a meniscus tear.  A torn meniscus is often noticed after an injury, such as a twisting injury, after stepping in a hole or after a fall from a height.  Sports can frequently injure the knee due to the high forces placed on the knee during impact with another player, impact with the ground, or just the rotational stress from planting the foot and twisting around the non moving leg.  However a meniscus tear can also occur without a onetime injury, and may occur due to repetitive activity or from wear and tear over time.

A lot of times patients will feel a sharp stabbing pain with a torn meniscus as they take a step. Also, they may have the feeling that the knee will lock up or will give out.  This gives them the concern that their knee is unstable and will not hold them up. These symptoms can be worsened by squatting or climbing stairs.  The knee will also feel unstable when trying to rotate or pivot, giving a feeling of “shifting” within the knee.  For this reason, a brace can be useful to help secure the knee.

In the long run, surgery may be needed for a meniscus tear in an active otherwise healthy individual.  With modern technology we can address these with newer arthroscopic techniques.  This is usually an outpatient surgery.  There are some situations when it may not be practical to perform surgery for a meniscus tear.  For example, if the patient’s age is not appropriate for the surgery or if there is too much arthritis in the joint, surgery on the torn meniscus in this situation may not offer the benefit desired.  Other options may be considered, such as medications, exercises, therapy, ice / heat, injections or sometimes joint replacement if the knee is completely worn out.

Because there are other problems that can cause knee pain (e.g. patellofemoral painarthritisACL tear, inflammation), it is important to be fully evaluated for your knee pain.  With a proper diagnosis a course of treatment can be laid out for you to get you back on your feet again.