cartilage tear

When talking about knee injuries, there is often some confusion between the terms ‘meniscus tear’ and ‘cartilage tear’. In fact, the terms are frequently used interchangeably by patients. So, is there a difference between a meniscus tear and a cartilage tear to the knee, and if so what is it?

Meniscus v cartilage

The easiest way to clarify the situation is to look at what is meant by the words ‘meniscus’ and ‘cartilage’.

Cartilage is one of the body’s connective tissues. There are two types of cartilage in the knee joint: articular cartilage, which covers the ends of the bones that make up the knee, and meniscus cartilage, which forms a sort of cushion between the bones.

So is meniscus a type of cartilage?

That’s right. So if a doctor refers to an injury as a cartilage tear, they could mean a meniscus tear. In fact, the majority of cartilage injuries to the knee are meniscus tears, which might be behind the confusion, as doctors may not see the need to specify.

Articular cartilage injuries

Although less common than meniscal tears, injury to the articular cartilage of the knee does happen. This can present as cartilage thinning; fissures or flaps within the articular cartilage, or cartilage defects.

Common symptoms of articular cartilage injury include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the knee joint
  • Locking or giving way of the knee

How does articular cartilage damage happen?

As with most knee injuries, articular cartilage damage is often a result of trauma, such as injury. It can, however, be linked to inflammatory joint conditions such as arthritis, so it is important to get it thoroughly assessed by a specialist.

Meniscus tears

Meniscus tears are the most common knee injuries. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling or stiffness in the knee joint
  • Difficulty straightening the knee
  • Locking or giving way of the knee
  • A popping sensation when the injury occurs

As you can see, symptoms of both injuries are strikingly similar, so a thorough examination is necessary to determine which type of injury you have.

How do meniscus tears happen?

Meniscus tears can occur during any activity which causes the knee to twist or rotate the knee. It is common among athletes, particularly basketball and netball players.

Treating a cartilage tear

If you think you may have torn the cartilage in your knee, the first thing to do is to have your injury assessed by a specialist – and the sooner you do this, the better. Meniscal tears do not tend to heal by themselves, but orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Shah Punwar is highly experienced in dealing with these types of knee injuries.

During your consultation, Mr Punwar will talk through all the different treatment options with you, including physiotherapy and surgery.

A knee arthroscopy might be performed, whereby the inside of your knee is examined with an instrument called an arthroscope. This is inserted through an incision close to the knee, and both articular cartilage and meniscus procedures can be performed. The good news is that recovery is usually very quick with minimal tissue damage.

If you have concerns about a knee injury, and would like to book a consultation with Mr Punwar to discuss treatment options, contact us by calling 0808 273 6283 or emailing .

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