How is a meniscal tear diagnosed?
- How you injured your knee and the symptoms you are getting may be enough to tell a doctor that you have a meniscal tear.
- A doctor or therapist will need to examine your knee. Certain features of the examination may point towards a meniscal tear. They will also want to examine the rest of your leg, including your hip, to check for other injuries or other causes of your symptoms.
- Cartilage doesn't show up well on an X-ray so an X-ray of your knee is not usually necessary. The one time you might need to have an X-ray would be if your doctor is concerned that you might have damaged your bone (rather than cartilage) when you injured your knee.
- The diagnosis of a meniscal tear can be confirmed by an MRI scan.
- CT scanning is not as good as an MRI for diagnosing a meniscal tear.
How is damage to the articular cartilage diagnosed?
Just as when someone injures their meniscal cartilage, the history of how you injured your knee is important. Examination of the knee may reveal a swelling of the joint (effusion), a 'crunching' of the joint (crepitus) or locking but these things can be caused by other conditions too. X-rays are sometimes useful but an MRI scan provides doctors with the best pictures of the articular cartilages of the knee.
Damage to your articular cartilage may be found on an MRI scan when you are having the scan for another reason. Your doctor may have requested the scan to investigate other injuries to your knee, such as a meniscal tear or a ligament injury. See separate leaflet called Knee Ligament Injuries for more details.
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Further reading & references
- Englund M, Guermazi A, Gale D, et al; Incidental meniscal findings on knee MRI in middle-aged and elderly persons. N Engl J Med. 2008 Sep 11 359(11):1108-15.
- McDermott ID, Amis AA; The consequences of meniscectomy. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2006 Dec 88(12):1549-56.
- Sihvonen R, Paavola M, Malmivaara A, et al; Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy versus sham surgery for a degenerative meniscal tear. N Engl J Med. 2013 Dec 26 369(26):2515-24. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1305189.
- Knee pain - assessment; NICE CKS, March 2011 (UK access only)
- Bark S, Piontek T, Behrens P, et al; Enhanced microfracture techniques in cartilage knee surgery: Fact or fiction? World J Orthop. 2014 Sep 18 5(4):444-9. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v5.i4.444. eCollection 2014 Sep 18.
- van den Bekerom MP, Struijs PA, Blankevoort L, et al; What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults? J Athl Train. 2012 Jul-Aug 47(4):435-43. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.14.
- Holzer LA, Leithner A, Holzer G; Surgery versus physical therapy for meniscal tear and osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med. 2013 Aug 15 369(7):677. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1307177#SA1.
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