Most commonly, meniscal tears are caused by some sort of traumatic injury or sports injury. An unnatural over rotation of the leg can cause the cartilage of either of the menisci to tear either fully or partially.

See Knee Cartilage Repair, Regeneration, and Replacement

Sports Injuries and Meniscal Tears

Common causes of a meniscal tear in sports include:

  • Impact on the side or front of the knee, causing the knee joint to move to the side, can result in a tear of either menisci and occasionally the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), as well. An athlete might experience this when diving onto a basketball court for a loose ball or getting tackled in a football game.

    See ACL Tear: Causes and Risk Factors

  • Over rotation of the knee due to planting or cutting on the leg too aggressively can cause a tear in either of the menisci. This type of pivoting is common in sports such as soccer, basketball, and football.
  • Rapid stepping or squatting on an uneven surface can cause disproportionate force on the knees, leading to tears or ruptures of the meniscus. This movement might occur while trail running in cross country, running football drills, or falling awkwardly in lacrosse.

    See Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain

  • Unexpected, quick force can lead the knee joint to flex too far back and tear the meniscus. For example, colliding with the leg of another basketball player while coming down from a rebound might cause this.

Degenerative Knee Causes of Meniscal Tears

As we age, the cartilage that the meniscus is made of becomes less resilient and rubbery, allowing for injury even when there is less dramatic activity or impact. People with a degenerative joint condition, or who engage in activity or professions that involve a lot of squatting up and down, are susceptible to developing a meniscal tear.

  • Degenerative conditions, such as knee osteoarthritis, can also cause tears in either of the menisci over time. This sort of condition weakens the cartilage of the meniscus, allowing it to be torn with greater ease.
  • Occupations or activities that involve a lot of squatting up and down can strain the mesiscus cartilage, especially over time. For example, plumbers and carpet installers are required to squat throughout the day and are more susceptible to knee injuries such as a meniscal tear.

See Knee Surgery for a Torn Meniscus

Dr. Terry Gemas is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Lakewood Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Dallas, TX. He specializes in sports medicine and has been in practice for more than 15 years. Dr. Gemas has treated professional athletes and currently serves as the head team physician for several Dallas-Forth Worth area high school, college, and club teams.