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Symptoms of a meniscus tear, such as pain, depend on the size and location of the tear and whether other knee injuries occurred along with it. Pain can also be caused by swelling and injury to surrounding tissues.
With small tears, you may have little to no pain at the time of the injury. A little swelling often develops slowly over a couple of days. Many times, people can walk with only a little pain, although pain increases when you squat, lift, or rise from a seated position. These symptoms usually go away, although you may still have pain when you bend or twist your knee.
In a typical moderate tear, you feel pain at the side or in the center of the knee, depending on where the tear is. Often, you are still able to walk. Swelling usually increases slowly over a few days and may make the knee feel stiff and limit bending. There is often sharp pain when you twist or squat. Symptoms may go away but can come back from overuse or when you do activities that involve twisting. The pain may come and go over a period of years if the tear isn't treated.
Larger tears usually cause more pain and immediate swelling and stiffness. Pieces of the torn meniscus can float into the joint space. This can make the knee catch, pop, or lock. You may not be able to straighten your knee. If other injuries occurred with the meniscus tear, especially torn ligaments, you may have increased pain and swelling, a feeling that the knee is unstable, and trouble walking.
Older people whose menisci are worn may not be able to recall a specific event that caused a tear, or they may recall symptoms developing after a minor incident such as rising from a squatting position. Pain and a little swelling are often the only symptoms.
Pain at the inside of the knee can mean there is a tear to the medial meniscus. Pain at the outer side of the affected knee can mean there is a tear to the lateral meniscus.