Degenerative Meniscal Tear

As well as the acute meniscal tear which is generally caused by  a specific trauma to the knee, there is also a condition called a degenerative meniscal tear. The most common age range for this type of meniscal injury is between 40 and 60 years of age. Symptoms and management can differ from that of a sudden onset meniscal tear.


Degenerative meniscal tears are generally caused by a lower level of trauma. They may also occur without any significant injury at all. For example crouching down to the floor, getting out of a chair or twisting awkwardly.

You may feel some pain in the knee at the time, but it can also increase gradually over time. This may mean that you are unsure what has caused the pain in your knee.

Common symptoms

  • Pain is often present. It may be sharp at first or when carrying out certain movements. However the pain is generally experienced as a low level ache in the knee that is fairly constant.
  • Degenerative meniscal tears may affect your day to day activities and limit some movement in the knee.
  • You may experience locking, catching or clicking within the knee
  • You will usually feel pain if you press into the area either side of the knee which is where the meniscus sits. This is called the joint line.
  • Pain is often worse with twisting and loading activities such as climbing stairs, kneeling or walking

Pain relief

  • An ice pack can help relieve pain and swelling but be careful not to put ice directly on your skin – wrap them with a tea towel or cover.
  • Over the counter painkillers like paracetamol will ease the pain, but need to be taken regularly in order to control the pain. A short course of anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can help with swelling, and therefore help you move more freely. Follow the instructions on the packet and discuss using them safely with a pharmacist or GP, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

Exercise and activity

  • It is important to maintain an active lifestyle. The main treatment for this condition is conservative management including exercises. Most people will have a significant improvement of their symptoms within 3 – 6 months of starting rehabilitation, but it can take up to a year in certain circumstances.
  • You will need to regain any loss of movement and strengthening the muscles around the knee to provide adequate support to allow a return to your daily activities.
  • Try the exercises below to start to improve the movement and strength in the knee:
acute knee injury ball slide

Ball or carrier bag

Use a ball or a carrier bag to slide your foot back underneath a chair, increasing the bend in your knee as you do this.

acute knee injury towel

Rolled up towel

Place a rolled up towel underneath the heel and allow your knee to straighten in this position

patellar tendinopathy static quad

Knee down into the floor

Lying flat or sitting up with your leg straight in front of you, squash the back of the knee down into the floor or sofa. Hold 5 seconds.

patellar tendinopathy straight leg raise

Lifting the leg

Lying flat or sitting with your leg straight in front of you. Squeeze your thigh muscle to lift the leg off the floor, keeping it straight as you do this

What if my symptoms don’t improve

If your symptoms continue after trying the advice above, you should seek further advice from a healthcare practitioner. A Physiotherapist will be able to help you manage your symptoms better by creating a tailored treatment programme.

In a few cases conservative management is not effective and you may need further treatment such as surgery to reconstruct or repair the injured structure. If this is the case your healthcare practitioner will talk you through the process involved.