Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear — and When to Seek Treatment

April 2, 2024

Meniscus tears are not one size fits all: Sometimes they cause no pain, other times they’re excruciating.

Henry Ford HealthOnce in a while they heal or adapt on their own, but more often than not they require physical therapy or surgery.    

“Your meniscus is a fiber elastic cartilage that acts as a shock absorber for the knee,” says Ahmad Bazzi, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “It also helps stabilize the knee joint. But when it tears — which can occur in young athletes after a pivot injury or in older people who have arthritis — it can be painful.”

Here, Dr. Bazzi shares symptoms of a meniscus tear and when to see a doctor. 

What Does A Meniscus Tear Feel Like?

Depending upon the level of injury and type of tear, meniscus tears can either be asymptomatic or cause symptoms like:

  • Locking. When the meniscus tears, a piece of it might move into the knee joint, causing mechanical issues like stiffness and locking of the knee joint.
  • Catching or clicking. This often feels like a sudden ‘click’ in the knee joint, where it suddenly gives out while you’re walking or doing certain movements. 
  • Localized pain on the inner or outer part of the knee. In young athletes, a meniscus tear often causes an impaired range of motion and localized pain on the inner or outer part of the knee. 
  • Pain and swelling. In older people, a meniscus tear often causes swelling and an overall aching pain in the knee.  

Treatment Options For Meniscus Tears

A meniscus tear can only heal on its own if the tear is on the outer part of the knee where it has better access to blood supply. If you’re experiencing pain a few days after injury and you have limited range of motion, instability and/or swelling in the knee, Dr. Bazzi recommends seeing a doctor to get an examination and, if needed, an MRI for diagnosis. 

“It’s hard to tell what type of meniscus tear you have if you haven’t seen a doctor,” says Dr. Bazzi. “If you have a mechanically unstable tear and it goes untreated, it could lead to worsening range of motion and stiffness, or worsening arthritis. It’s important to get seen by a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment. It may take one to three months for a full recovery.”     

Here, Dr. Bazzi shares treatment options:


If someone is having mechanical symptoms like locking or catching, surgery may be considered right away, especially if it’s an athlete younger than 40 years old. “Meniscus tear surgery has a shorter recovery compared to other knee surgeries,” says Dr. Bazzi. “Surgery could either consist of a meniscectomy, which is partial or complete removal of the meniscus, or sometimes just a meniscus repair.”  

Hyaluronic acid or cortisone injections

Non-operative treatments are often recommended for older people who have degenerative tears due to arthritis. “This is because meniscus surgery doesn’t often relieve their pain since they have underlying arthritis, meaning they have cartilage loss in the meniscus,” says Dr. Bazzi. 

Instead, a cortisone injection, which is an anti-inflammatory medication that can be injected into the knee, can reduce inflammation, swelling and pain caused by arthritis.

A hyaluronic acid injection may also be considered, which adds cushioning in the knee. “Hyaluronic acid is one of the substances that make up our cartilage, so this injection helps us mimic the lost cartilage,” says Dr. Bazzi. “It also has anti-inflammatory properties.” 

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is another great option, especially for older people who need non-operative treatment options. It can help the knee adapt to the tear, reduce pain and encourage full range of motion. “Physical therapy for meniscus tears focuses on balance exercises and exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee,” says Dr. Bazzi. “This helps to uphold the knee joint to achieve full range of motion and strength while being pain-free.” 

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit or call 313-651-1969.

Reviewed by Ahmad Bazzi, M.D., a sports medicine physician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Fairlane. 

5 Strategies To Improve Range Of Motion

March 6, 2024

When it comes to health and fitness, regular exercise and strength training get the most attention. But it turns out that improving your range of motion may pay greater dividends, particularly over the long haul. 

Henry Ford Health

“All kinds of things can impact our range of motion,” says Jennifer Burnham, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health. “As we age, our joints become less pliable, but any kind of surgery or injury can also impact our range of motion. And if you're somebody who sits at a desk all day long, that can affect your range of motion as well.”

Why Is Improving Flexibility Important? 

Staying active with regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training is a great way to maintain your overall physical health. But it’s important to remember that flexibility exercises come with plenty of perks, too, including:

"Unfortunately, if you have limited range of motion, you may perform tasks incorrectly, causing other muscles and joints to overcompensate for the lack of mobility,” Burnham says. “Over time, that compensation mechanism can increase the risk of injury.” 

To complicate matters, our lifestyles often don’t support our range of motion goals. Many of us spend most of our days sitting at a desk or hunched over a screen. And when we’re not sitting still, most of us are slouching. 

What Are Some Ways To Improve Range Of Motion?

You don’t have to be able to twist your limbs into a pretzel to achieve full range of motion. Instead, try to improve on your current level of flexibility with these five simple strategies: 

  1. Pay attention to timing. If you’re not ready to add a stretching day to your workout regimen, consider adding a set of flexibility exercises at the end of every session. Pre-workout stretching is helpful, too, but stretching when your muscles are warm is a more effective way to stave off injuries. 
  2. Focus on mobility and stability. Even if you can do the splits or touch your toes to the back of your head, you won’t be able to hold the position if you don’t also have strong core muscles. “Most people do stabilizing exercises such as strength training and lifting weights without paying much attention to mobilizing activities like stretching and yoga,” Burnham says. “But you really need to do both stabilizing and flexibility exercises to get an effective workout.” 
  3. Do a mix of dynamic and static stretches. Two types of stretches can help you gain an edge when it comes to improving range of motion: Dynamic (an active type of stretching where you’re moving within your range of motion) and static stretching (where you hold a stretch). Dynamic stretching with arm and head circles, side stretches, and hip circles before exercise is a good way to warm up cool muscles and help lubricate the joints. With static stretching such as touching your toes to stretch your hamstrings, the goal is to hold a position for 30 seconds or more. Static stretches are often best performed after a workout when your muscles are warm.
  4. Try foam rolling. Foam rollers act almost like a rolling pin to smooth out tight muscles. Used correctly, they can help improve range of motion — and release stress and tension. You can use foam rollers to prime your body for exercise, or to recover after a workout.
  5. Aim for balance. If one part of your body is super flexible, focus on increasing range of motion in the opposing muscle group. “So, for example, if your hamstrings are very flexible, make sure to target your quadriceps with flexibility exercises,” Burnham says. “The goal is to make sure you’re aiming for balancing in your body.”

While stretching is an important way to achieve and maintain balance, flexibility and range of motion, it isn’t always intuitive. Not sure where to begin? Consider meeting with a personal trainer or athletic trainer to help you devise a program. 

“Watching YouTube videos can be helpful, but if you’ve never done flexibility exercises before, you could overstretch your muscles or find yourself in an incorrect position to stretch,” Burnham says. “And yes, you can create bodily injury by overstretching.”

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit or call 313-651-1969.

Reviewed by Jennifer Burnham, MS, AT, ATC, CSCS, a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine.