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  • Sarah Chapman

Knee injuries: meniscus tear and cartilage tear, is there a difference?

It can be confusing when you see a physiotherapist or a doctor and one says you have a torn meniscus and the other suggests a torn cartilage in your knee. These terms are often used inter-changeably by both physios and doctors, so is there a difference between the two?

Matt Saayman, Physical Health's clinical lead physio and lower limb specialist explains.

Let's start by understanding that cartilage is a very resiliant, strong and flexible connective tissue found throughout our body. There are two types of cartilage found in our knee, articular cartilage and meniscal cartilage.

Articular cartilage is found at the ends of our bones and reduces friction, preventing the bones from rubbing together. The meniscus sits beween the bones, femur (thigh) and tibia (shin), and acts as a shock absorber.

Anatomy of the knee

The most common type of cartilage tear in the knee is a tear of the meniscus. As a result doctors and physiotherapists may not always feel the need to specify your injury and hence most often the terms cartilage tear, torn cartilage or meniscal tear mean the same thing.

Can you injure your articular cartilage?

Yes you can. The articular covering at the ends of our bones is shiny, smooth and white. It is less commonly injured by a traumatic event and more often damaged by wear and tear (Osteoarthritis). The wear and tear can make movement of the knee joint and increased weight bearing uncomfortable.

How is a meniscal tear diagnosed?

If you suspect you may have a meniscal tear in your knee it is best to get this diagnosed by a health professional, either a physiotherapist or a doctor.

Firstly the physiotherapist or doctor will listen as you tell them how you injured your knee, for example you might be a footballer who twisted whilst playing and felt pain in your knee, or you be a little older and were gardening at the weekend then woke up on Monday morning with a stiff and painful knee.

The kind of symptoms that you can feel with a meniscal tear can include:

  • Difficulty straightening the knee

  • A feeling of the knee giving way

  • The knee may clunk or lock

  • Knee pain and/or swelling

When you've given the health professional the background to your knee pain or symptoms they will assess your knee before coming to a conclusion.

What treatment is there for a meniscal tear?

This depends. Research has shown us that many meniscal tears do very well without surgery. A good rehabilitation plan, and a patient that sticks to their exercise plan, can have a very good outcome and a full recovery. Some types of tear need arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery to get better. A physiotherapist would refer you on to see an orthopaedic consultant, who would likely scan your knee and decide what the best treatment options are.

Here at the Physical Health Physiotherapy clinic Matt Saayman, our Clinical Lead is a lower limb specialist and particularly enjoys working with knee injuries. Matt has close and respected links with local Orthopaedic Consultant Surgeons that ensures if you see him with your knee injury and you need further assessment or treatment by a consultant, he can refer you onwards.

If you are referred for follow-up physiotherapy by your Consultant, you can be confident Matt will provide you with the best care and continue to liaise with your Consultant during your physiotherapy treatment.

If you'd like to get in touch and chat about your knee injury please give us a call on 01932 645320 or email us at You can also check out our website and see Matt's clinical experience here

Ready to make a physiotherapy appointment with Matt? Please click here to go to our online booking.

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