What Causes a Meniscal Tear?

A meniscal tear is a common sports injury, as it is usually caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the knee bent while the foot is planted. These types of moves are frequently used in soccer, football, and basketball, so the injury is more common in those sports. The meniscus can also tear if you lift something heavy and turn just the wrong way. As we age, the meniscus slowly wears out and weakens, which can make it more susceptible to tearing. Even an awkward movement when standing up from a seated position can be enough to cause a tear. A lot of times we don’t even know when we tore the meniscus.

Although there are two menisci in the knee: one medial and one lateral, the medial meniscus, located on the inside of the knee, is the one torn most often. There are two types of meniscal tears that occur: sudden/acute tears and degenerative tears. Sudden meniscal tears can happen during activities that involve direct contact, like a football tackle in sports, or by a movement that torques or rotates the knee. In this type of tear, some people report hearing a “pop”. Conversely, degenerative tears tend to happen over time, typically without an acute injury or traumatic event. Medial meniscal tears are more likely to occur in older people, particularly from the fourth to sixth decades of life, simply because the aging tissue within the knee cannot withstand as much stress. During a flare-up, these tears can cause noticeable pain on the inside or outside part of the knee.

Return to the Meniscus Care page.