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Torn Meniscus Cartilage

This is an incredibly common injury to the two C-shaped discs of cartilage inside the knee. Read more about to identify a meniscus tear, the causes, symptoms and exercises to help improve knee function.

What is a torn meniscus cartilage?

Meniscus tear happens when the knee is forcefully twisted whilst taking full weight through the knee. It can also happen in reverse when the foot is planted and the body twists. It is a common injury in sports like rugby or if someone lands and slips with full weight. Think of a trail runner running downhill.

A torn or damaged meniscus cartilage causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the knee. With a bucket tear, when a small flap folds over on itself, an athlete can experience locking of the knee when trying to straighten the leg or stand up from sitting. This is because the small tear temporarily blocks the movement of the knee.

Inside the knee there are two C-shaped cartilage discs that sit on top of the thigh bone. They act as a shock absorber in the knee as well as providing smooth surfaces to facilitate the movement of the knee and protect the bones.

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How to test for a meniscus tear.

We strongly recommend that you have any suspected injuries fully assessed by a medical professional.


Test 1. 

  • Stand facing the corner walls in a room.
  • Stand on one leg, you can test both for comparison or just stand on the leg that has the painful knee.
  • With your foot planted walk your hands to the right turning your torso and hips to follow
  • Return to the centre
  • Walk your hands to the left turning your torso and hips to follow.

Pain in either or both directions indicates a high probability of cartilage tear or damage.


Test 2.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Turn your toes inwards as far as the knees can rotate keeping your heels in the same spot on the ground
  • Squat down then slowly return to standing.

A click or pain can indicate a meniscus tear.

Symptoms of a meniscal cartilage tear.

The pain will feel like it is inside the knee and is often difficult to pinpoint exactly as you are unable to put your dinger directly on the cartilage. Often you will describe an area of the knee or a movement that aggravates your symptoms

Meniscus tears are often linked to a traumatic incident, like a slip, trip, fall or specific moment in your sport. At that point, it will feel very sharp and you will most likely be unable to fully take your weight through the knee and walk with a limp.

Over time the pain will settle but the knee will have a dull constant ache, and feel stiff and swollen, like an overinflated water balloon. Certain movements will reproduce your sharp pain and you may experience locking of the knee or a popping sensation when you try to straighten the leg or stand up from sitting.


What makes the pain worse?

  • Going up and down stairs or ascending and descending a gradient such as a hill.
  • Impact-based activities such as walking and running
  • Twisting the knee
  • Moving from sitting to standing. You may fund that you compensate by taking more weight through the other knee or standing up with the injured leg slight out in front.

Treatment for a meniscus cartilage tear

  1. Avoid impact-based exercises that aggravate your knee pain, especially any activity that causes you to twist, rotate or pivot your knee.
  2. Ice can help to reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice to the knee for 20-30 minutes every 4 hours for the first two days. After the two days apply ice as often as you require to manage the pain and symptoms
  3. Supportive braces and crutches can help to promote healing if the pain is severe. It does this by reducing the pressure taken through the knee when walking and standing.
  4. Over-the-counter pain medication can help to relieve pain. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for the best advice on what to take.
  5. Heat can help reduce joint stiffness for chronic knee pain. If you have had meniscus damage for longer than a month then applying heat for 20 minutes can help improve joint mobility.
  6. Surgery may be required for severe meniscus tears or for pain that is impacting your daily life.


Exercises for a torn meniscus.

Half Squat

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend at the hips and at the knees.
  • Lower yourself down in the sitting position.
  • Stop before your knees reach 90 degrees.
  • Return to the standing position.

Frequency and duration

  • Lower for a count of 3 seconds.
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Return to standing for a count of 2 seconds.
  • 3 sets of 12 squats.

Hamstring Curl

This exercise is designed to strengthen the hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh.

  • Stand on one leg with one foot behind you.
  • You can lean on a pole or wall for stability.
  • Raise your heel to your bum making sure to keep your knees aligned.
  • Lower your foot back down until your toes are touching the ground.

Frequency and duration

  • Raise for a count of 2 seconds.
  • hold for 1 second.
  • lower your foot for a count of 2 seconds.
  • 3x sets of 12 on each leg.


  • Easier - reduce the height you lift your foot off the ground.
  • Harder - add weight to the ankle.

Quads Contraction

This exercise targets the small quad muscle on the inside of the knee that controls the last 10 degrees of extension and helps stabilise the knee.

  • Lie on the ground with a rolled-up towel or foam roller under your mid-thigh causing a bend in your knee.
  • Contract the quads lifting the foot off the ground.
  • Hold at the top then lower the foot back to the floor.

Frequency and duration

  • Raise for a count of 1 second.
  • hold for a count of 3 seconds.
  • lower for a count of 1 second.
  • 3x sets of 15 each leg.


  • Easier - remove the towel and just press the knee into the ground.
  • Harder - add weight around the ankle

Straight Leg Raise

  • This exercise strengthens muscles in your quadriceps and your hip flexors as a collective group.
    • Lie on the ground on your back.
    • Pull your foot towards you & engage your quads.
    • Push your lower back into the ground, and engage your core and trunk muscles.
    • Lift your leg off the ground as far as you can without arching your lower back.
    • slowly lower your leg back down.

    Frequency and duration 

    • Raise for a count of 3 seconds.
    • Hold for a count of 2 seconds.
    • Lower for a count of 2 seconds.
    • 3x sets of 12 on each leg.


    • Easier - bend the knee on the resting leg planting the foot on the ground.

Heel Slides

This exercise is designed to strengthen the hamstrings and improve the range of movement in the knee

  • Lie on your back on the ground.
  • Place a tea towel, plastic bag or sheet of paper under your foot.
  • Slide your heel towards your bum making sure to keep contact with the ground throughout the movement.
  • Slide your foot back out.

Frequency and duration 

  • Slide your foot in for a count of 2 seconds
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Slide your foot out for a count of 2 seconds.

The information on this site is intended for educational purposes.

You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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