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Meniscus tear (knee cartilage damage)

A meniscus tear is a common type of damage to cartilage in the knee. The cartilage is found between the bones in the knee joint and protects them when you move. It usually gets damaged because of an injury.

Check if you have a meniscus tear

A meniscus tear usually happens when you twist your knee while playing sport. But it can also happen from more minor injuries such as twisting when standing up.

Symptoms of a meniscus tear include:

  • knee pain or tenderness
  • stiffness or swelling around your knee – the swelling may not start for a few hours or days
  • difficulty bending, straightening or moving your knee
  • your knee giving way when you try to stand
  • a crunching or clicking feeling when you move your knee

The symptoms can be similar to sprains.

How to ease symptoms of a meniscus tear

There are some things you can do to ease symptoms of a meniscus tear.

Do

  • stop any exercise or activities and rest your knee when you can during the first few days

  • put an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a towel on your knee for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours

  • wrap a bandage around your knee or wear a knee support – remove it when you sleep

  • keep your leg raised on a pillow as much as possible

  • take paracetamol to ease pain

Don’t

  • do not use heat packs and avoid hot baths

  • do not drink alcohol

  • do not massage your knee

  • do not carry anything heavy

  • do not completely stop moving your knee – after a few days of resting, try to do some gentle movements

A pharmacist can help with a meniscus tear

You can ask a pharmacist about painkillers and the types of knee supports you can get.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • knee pain is stopping you doing normal activities or affecting your sleep
  • the pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
  • your symptoms have not improved after treating it at home
  • your knee is stiff for more than 30 minutes after waking up

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have very bad knee pain after a fall or injury
  • you're unable to walk or put weight on your knee
  • the skin around your knee is swollen and feels hot
  • you have knee pain and feel generally unwell with a high temperature or feeling hot and shivery

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Go to A&E if:

  • your knee has moved out of place, changed shape or is pointing at an odd angle
  • you heard a crack when you had your injury
  • you have any tingling or you have no feeling in your knee, leg or toes

Call 999 for an ambulance if you cannot get to A&E.

Treatments for a meniscus tear

A meniscus tear can get better on its own without treatment, but it can take a while to heal.

Sometimes, physiotherapy may be recommended to help reduce pain and improve movement and strength in the knee.

If the damage is severe, you may need arthroscopy surgery to repair or remove the damaged cartilage.

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Page last reviewed: 19 January 2023
Next review due: 19 January 2026