Who Is Most at Risk of Suffering a Meniscus Tear?

You’ve heard of the mysterious meniscus when listening to sports broadcasts about an injured athlete or talking to a friend with a bum knee, but you may not know exactly what this part of your anatomy is.

The meniscus is a layer of cartilage that sits in the space where your leg bones meet. You have two on each knee at the inner and outer areas.

Your meniscus is critical for the smooth operation of your knee joint. The cartilage cushions the space between the bones, absorbing shock. The meniscus also helps your knee move smoothly as you walk, run, and jump.

A torn meniscus causes pain, tenderness, swelling, and compromised range of movement. Your knee feels weak and prevents you from doing the things you love when your meniscus is compromised. Those at greatest risk are older adults, but anyone can experience a tear. Read on to learn if you’re at risk.


In your youth, your meniscus is a powerful piece of cartilage. It withstands force well. But as you get older, the cartilage starts to wear away and degrade. It’s more susceptible to a tear than it was in your youth. Activities you may have done in your teens and 20s without a problem can result in a tear as your reach your 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Accidents and sports injuries

At any age, your meniscus is vulnerable to trauma. A person younger than 30 who tears their meniscus likely experienced a blow to the joint, such as during a tackle in a football game. Over-rotation can also cause a tear in the meniscus, such as a quick pivot or stop from a high speed.

If you plant your foot on an uneven surface in just the wrong way or hyperextend your knee, you may also tear the meniscus, regardless of your age.


If you have degeneration of the cartilage at the knee joint, or osteoarthritis, you’re at a much greater risk of tearing the meniscus. Your cartilage is thinner and less resilient as a result of the condition and cannot withstand the force and movement it did when young and healthy.

Repetitive movements

If you make the same movement often, such as squatting or kneeling, you’re at a greater risk for a meniscus tear. This doesn’t just mean heaving heavy barbells in the gym during Olympic squats. People who have jobs laying carpets or in plumbing, for example, are also at risk.

Sometimes, there’s no clear risk

Bafflingly, a meniscus tear can just develop. Usually it’s a result of age-related degeneration of the tissue, but there may not be a specific incident, habit, or diagnosis that explains why the injury occurred. Unlike an acute meniscus tear where you may feel a pop and have swelling occur within about 12 hours, you may notice knee weakness, pain, and mild swelling that gradually develops with these unexplained causes.

If you have knee pain that suggests a meniscus tear, we’re available to help. The expert orthopedists at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists offer noninvasive and surgical solutions, depending on the severity of your tear and your activity goals. Call our office to schedule an appointment and get your meniscus evaluated and treated today.

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