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How to Self Diagnose a Meniscus Tear

Updated on January 7, 2016
Andrew Stradley profile image

Andrew is a certified athletic trainer. He has a masters degree in Athletic Training and a bachelors degree in Exercise Science

Example of Meniscus Tear
Example of Meniscus Tear | Source

What is a Meniscus Tear?

The meniscus is the C-shaped cushioning that is found within the knee, between the thigh and shin bones. It's main job is to soften the impact between the thigh (femur) bone and the shin (tibia) bone. At times, due to the amount of impact or excessive twisting and force, this meniscus can develop a tear. There are different types of meniscus tears, but for our purposes, we will treat them as equal.

What is a Meniscus Tear

Meniscus Tear Symptoms

If you've had a meniscus tear, what was the most common symptom

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Signs and Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear

There are some very clear signs and symptoms to a meniscus tear that make it fairly easy to diagnose.

These include:

  • Pain in the knee (particularly felt within the knee joint)
  • Stiffness and Swelling
  • The feeling of your knee "giving way"
  • Your knee becoming weak
  • Catching or locking of the knee
  • You can't move your knee through the full range of motion

How to Test for a Meniscus Tear

There are a couple of special tests that you can do yourself to give you an indication of whether you have a meniscus tear. These are not all inclusive, and a positive result does not necessarily mean you have a tear. They are just more pieces to the puzzle.

Apleys Compression Test

For this test you will need somebody else to help you.

  1. You start by laying prone (on your stomach), with you affected, or hurt, leg bent straight up to 90°.
  2. Have the other person lean on your foot, applying pressure to the heel
  3. While they are leaning on the foot, have them rotate the lower leg internally and externally (left and right)
  4. If you feel pain with this compression, that can be a sign that you have a meniscus tear.

Thessaly Special Test

  1. Start in a standing position. Make sure you are next to a table or chair that you can hold on to for safety when performing this test. (This test is not dangerous, there is just a chance of falling, especially if your balance is bad)
  2. Stand on the affected leg (the one that you suspect has the tear), and while using the table or chair for balance, squat down into at least a quarter squat. This would be at least half way between standing, and your leg being parallel with the ground.
  3. When you are in this position, slowly rotate back and forth on the knee.
  4. If you feel any pain, catching, or clicking, this gives you an indication that you may have a meniscus tear.

The single most useful thing I have found for diagnosing meniscus tears are the symptoms, particularly if the knee is locking or catching, or has the feeling of "giving way"

Now What?

Now that we've looked at all of these things, what should you do next? Here are a couple of options:

  • If you have basically all of the symptoms and have positive results on the tests, it might be time to see a professional and get your knee checked out.
  • If you have some of the symptoms, and maybe one of the tests is positive, you can either get it checked out, or live through it. It kind of depends on how much it is bothering you.
  • If you have very few of the symptoms and no positives on the special test, I would say that you are good for now, and don't need to see anybody about your knee. It might be that you have something else going on, or just some random aches and pains

Whatever you choose, make sure you are comfortable with you decision, and that you take the time to become well informed about that decision.

What to Expect at the Doctor's

The Actual Visit

When you visit the doctor (I would recommend one who is train in orthopedics), they will likely ask you questions similar to the symptoms that we have already seen. If they are good, they will do a series of special tests (they might use the same ones, or different ones than I have included here). When they feel that you may have a meniscus tear, they will want to make sure through the use of imaging. The most common imaging they would do is an MRI. This is really the only true diagnostic tool for a meniscus tear.

What options are there if you have a meniscus tear?

Depending on the severity of the tear, there are several options the doctor may recommend.

  1. Cortisone/Steroid shots - The doctor may give you a cortisone shot, which is basically used to manage pain. These shots can be very effective, but vary from person to person.
  2. Physical Therapy - You may be sent to physical therapy to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint to help support the knee, therefore taking pressure off of the meniscus.
  3. Surgery - If the tear is severe enough, you may need to undergo surgery. This surgery can either be to remove the meniscus, or to trim away the parts that are torn. Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the tear and the type of surgery you get.

Bonus Section: Exercises to Prevent Meniscus Tears

There are several basic exercises that you can do on a regular basis to help prevent a meniscus tear. These exercises should be done 3-4 times a week, with 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions. Happy Exercising!!

Doing a few exercises a day is much easier than rehabbing a knee after surgery

Partial Squat

  1. Stand with feet about shoulder width apart
  2. Squat down halfway to horizontal, about 45°, and then come back up
  3. Progress this exercise by adding weight or increasing the depth of the squat (i.e., 90°)

Lunge
Lunge | Source

Lunges

  1. Start in a wide stance
  2. Bring back leg down, almost touching the ground
  3. Bring up to original position
  4. After completing set with that leg, switch legs
  5. To progress, add weights

Calf Raises

  1. Start with legs abour shoulder width apart
  2. Be near something to grab in case you lose your balance
  3. Lift yourself up on your toes as high as you can
  4. Slowly come down, back to feet on the ground
  5. As you progress in this exercise, you can switch to doing a single leg calf raise


Start Position for Bridge
Start Position for Bridge | Source
End Position for Bridge
End Position for Bridge | Source

Bridge

  1. Start on your back with your knees bent
  2. Bring your hips up until your body makes a straight line
  3. Hold this position for a second
  4. Bring hips back down to starting position
  5. This exercise can be progressed by performing it with just one leg

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