Some people with a torn meniscus know exactly when they hurt their knee. There may be acute onset of pain and the patient may actually hear or fell a pop in their knee. As with any injury, there is an inflammatory response including pain and swelling. The swelling within the knee joint from a torn meniscus usually takes a few hours to develop. Depending upon the amount of fluid, the knee may become difficult to move, but sometimes the swelling may not necessarily be noticed. Sometimes, the patient isn't aware of the initial injury but starts complaining of symptoms that develop later.
After the injury, the knee joint may gradually settle down and feel relatively normal as the initial inflammatory response resolves. However, other symptoms may develop over time, including any or all of the following:
- Pain with running or walking longer distances
- Intermittent swelling of the knee joint: Many times, the patient may feel that the knee feels "tight." The knee is least compressed when flexed at 15 degrees. Straightening the knee can compress any fluid within it causing that tight feeling.
- Popping, especially when climbing up or down stairs
- Giving way or buckling (the sensation that the knee is unstable and a sense that the knee will give way): Less commonly, the knee will give way and cause the patient to fall.
- Locking (a mechanical block where the knee cannot be fully extended or straightened): This occurs when a piece of torn meniscus folds on itself and blocks full range of motion of the knee joint. The knee gets "stuck," usually flexed between 15 and 30 degrees and cannot bend or straighten from that position.
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