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When checking for a possible meniscus tear, your doctor will ask you about past injuries and what you were doing when your knee started to hurt. He or she will do an exam of both knees to check for tenderness and range of motion and see how stable your knee is. An X-ray is usually done to check the knee bones if you have swelling, if you have pain at a certain place (point tenderness), or if you can't put weight on your leg.
Your knee may be too painful or swollen for a full exam. In this case, your doctor may remove fluid from your joint and inject a numbing medicine (local anesthetic) into the joint. This might relieve your pain enough that you can have an exam. Or the exam may be postponed for a week while you care for your knee at home using rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Your doctor may order an MRI if the diagnosis is not clear. An MRI typically gives a good picture of where the tear is and how severe it is. It also shows the ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.
Your family doctor or an emergency room doctor may refer you to an orthopedist for a more complete exam. The orthopedist may recommend arthroscopy. It is a procedure used to look at and repair the inside of the knee joint. The doctor inserts a thin tube called an arthroscope through a small cut near the knee joint. The arthroscope has a camera with a light. With the scope, the doctor can see the meniscus and other parts of the knee.