Lateral Meniscus Tear

By: Andrew Heideman, PT, DPT, LAT, ATC

What is a Lateral Meniscus Tear?

The quick answer is that a lateral meniscus tear is an orthopedic injury to the semi-circular cartilage on the outside of the knee joint. Each knee has 2 menisci.  They are C-shaped cartilage that cushion and support the knee. They can be injured or torn with twisting or traumatic movements of the knee. 

The lateral mensicus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage on the outer portion of the knee. Lateral Meniscus Tear

The quick answer is that a lateral meniscus tear is an orthopedic injury to the semi-circular cartilage on the outside of the knee joint. Each knee has 2 menisci.  They are C-shaped cartilage that cushion and support the knee. They can be injured or torn with twisting or traumatic movements of the knee. 

Lateral Meniscus Tears ExplainedLateral meniscal tears symptoms include symptoms such as locking pain in the outer part of the knee. Lateral Meniscus Tear illustrated

The knee joint has two crescent-shaped cartilage menisci, which are located on the inside (medial) and outside (lateral) edges of the top of the tibia or shin bone, which is known as the tibial plateau. The menisci, sometimes called meniscuses, act as shock absorbers for the knee. They also provide support and stability for the knee joint. Injuries to either meniscus can limit normal use of the knee. The lateral or outer meniscus does not get injured as often as the medial meniscus. 

A medial meniscus tear is more common because it attaches to the MCL but the lateral meniscus does not attach to the LCL.  The MCL and LCL are major ligaments in the knee. 


There are several types of meniscus tears in the knee.  The severity and symptoms help to determine the type of treatment. Types of Meniscus Tears

A  meniscus cartilage tear can occur in a variety of ways and result in different types of meniscus tear injuries. Degenerative changes may lead to edges of the menisci becoming frayed and jagged 

  1. Longitudinal meniscus tear is a tear that occurs along the length of the meniscus
  2. Bucket handle tear is an exaggerated form of a longitudinal tear where a portion of the meniscus becomes detached from the tibia forming a flap that looks like a bucket handle.

For a more in depth review of different types of meniscus tears read this article HERE.

Symptoms of Lateral Meniscus Tears  Lateral meniscus tears symptoms include pain with squatting, walking, and running. lateral meniscus tear symptoms

Symptoms of a lateral meniscus tear may include tenderness and pain around the outside surface of the knee, particularly along the joint line. With a lateral meniscus tear, there is typically swelling which appears within 24 to 48 hours of the injury occurring.

A lateral meniscus tear typically causes pain with bending the knee or with squatting down. A doctor or athletic trainer will do a full knee assessment including McMurray test to screen for a lateral meniscus tear.  If positive, then an MRI may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis. 

How Do You Treat a Lateral Meniscus Tear? 

The quick answer is use the RICE principles (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Gentle exercises to maintain quadriceps muscle strength in the thigh can be done, although care should be taken not to aggravate the symptoms. A Physical Therapist will explain in detail which orthopedic exercises should be performed. Wearing a knee support can help protect the joint while it heals.

It may be best at first to avoid:

  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Kneeling
  • Stairs 

What Can Be Done For a Torn Lateral Meniscus?

An orthopedic specialist or sports medicine specialist will correctly diagnose the injury. They may do this by using specific tests for meniscal tears and a thorough physical exam of the knee.  The may also use specific diagnostic testing such as an MRI to confirm their diagnosis.  Once an accurate diagnosis is made, your physician will discuss your treatment options.  Your physician will discuss surgical options if needed to get you on the road to full recovery. 

Lateral Meniscus SurgeryLateral meniscus tear may require surgery.  This may be a partial meniscectomy or a Meniscus repair.  Both a performed using arthroscopy which is considered minimally invasive knee surgery.Lateral meniscus surgery with arthroscopy

If surgery is needed, the Orthopedic Knee surgeon will likely perform either a lateral meniscus repair or a partial meniscectomy.  Both procedures are usually performed with a minimally invasive surgery using arthroscopy.

The goal of surgery is to preserve as much of the meniscus cartilage as possible. If the tear occurs in an area that has blood supply and it can be repaired, then the surgeon may stitch the meniscus back together. This is a Meniscus Repair.

The success of the surgery depends  on the severity of the tear and the age and physical condition of the patient. Younger and fitter patients are known to have better outcomes.

Following surgery, a rehabilitative exercise program will be outlined for the patient which may include strengthening and balance training. Full co-operation with the rehab program will be necessary to maximize recovery.

Watch this Video on why Knee Pain Can't Wait!

Physical Therapy for Torn Lateral Meniscus

Physical therapy is an important element of pain in tendons of the kneePhysical therapy for torn lateral meniscus

Physical Therapy can be very important in the recovery time after a meniscus tear.  Non-surgical patients start right away with modalities for swelling and gently ROM exercises.  Surgical patients usually follow the protocol from the orthopedic surgeon depending of the nature of the tear and if it was repaired.  Repairs of the meniscus take longer in to recover from due to the initial non-weight bearing stage.  Meniscal tear exercises include heel slides, straight leg raises and flexibility exercises.  To learn more about the treatment of meniscus tears, please go to Meniscus Care Treatments.

Our website medical library has several articles about meniscus tears and other knee injuries.  Please go to JOI Library or JOI Trending to read more about such injuries.

To schedule an appointment for physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045.

Meniscus Doctors in Jacksonville FL

JOI has to largest and most experienced group of orthopedic knee surgeons in the Northeast Florida Area specializing in treating meniscus tears.

To schedule and appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Knee Specialist specializing in meniscus tears or other knee injuries, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or Click the Link Below.

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