What Should I Do If I have a Torn Meniscus?

Question: My doctor told me I have a torn meniscus, what does that mean and will I need surgery?
Let’s start by talking about what the meniscus is. The knee contains two large pieces of cartilage, the medial and lateral meniscus. As seen in the image, these pieces of cartilage act like cushions where the thighbone and shinbone meet.

Meniscus tears are very common knee injuries. Typically, they occur when there is sudden and/or powerful twisting or rotation of the knee. As we get older, the meniscus thins and weakens to the point that even squatting or stepping can cause a meniscal tear. The most common symptoms of a meniscal tear include but are not limited to pain (especially with twisting or turning of the knee), swelling, stiffness, a locking sensation and a feeling that your knee is going to give out. Meniscal tears are diagnosed by medical professionals based upon the mechanism of injury (how the injury occurred), the symptoms, and usually some form of diagnostic imaging like x-rays or an MRI.

Now for some good news, not all meniscal tears require surgery. Depending on the severity, it may heal on its own, and symptoms can often be managed with anti-inflammatories, icing, and physical therapy. If the tear does require surgery, usually arthroscopic surgery is sufficient to repair it. That is also good news in that arthroscopic surgeries are minimally invasive and only require small incisions.

Because meniscal tears are one of the most common knee injuries, car wreck and workers’ compensation claims involving meniscal tears are frequently denied and litigated. Additionally, the older you are, the more likely the insurance carrier will claim that a meniscal tear is caused by natural thinning and weakening of the meniscus (degeneration), rather than a car or work accident. If you’ve sustained a meniscal tear from a car wreck or through an accident at work, you should consult an attorney.

Proving that the meniscal tear came from a wreck or an accident at work is a multi-step process. First, you should always be as clear and detailed as possible when describing how your injuries occurred (did you strike your knee on something? Was it twisted or hyperextended?). Additionally, be sure to describe any immediate symptoms you had at the time of the wreck or accident. Further, it is very important to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding proper treatment.

As your case proceeds, your attorney should also review your medical records prior to the wreck/accident. It may be appropriate to take your primary care physician’s deposition to confirm that you’ve not had a recent history of knee problems. For those of us that have had knee issues in the past, it is very important to explain how your current problems are different than those you’ve experienced in the past. Your attorney can also use witnesses who were present at the time of the wreck/accident to testify how your injury occurred. As for your post-injury pain and limitations, your attorney can use witnesses such as family and close friends to describe how you have been impacted by the torn meniscus.

If you sustain a meniscal tear through a car wreck or an accident at work, talk with an attorney who has experience with these types of cases and in handling litigation.