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Is Your Knee Pain Arthritis or a Torn Meniscus? 3 Questions to Help Figure it Out (And a Bonus Tip!)

Sometimes it’s all in the wrist. Other times it’s all in the hips. So what happens when it’s all the knees? When you have knee pain, especially if you’re an older adult, it can be hard to know what’s causing it. In today’s blog article, we break down the difference between arthritis and a torn meniscus to help you understand if your knee pain could be attributed to one of these common causes.

Knee osteoarthritis is when damage occurs to the articular cartilage. This is the tough, slick material covering the thighbone along, shinbone, and behind the knee cap.

A torn meniscus results from damage to the flexible, rubbery cartilage that helps cushion the shin and thighbone in the knee.

Common symptoms of both osteoarthritis and a torn meniscus include:

  • Pain around the knee joint, especially after physical activity
  • Swelling that can make the knee painful to the touch
  • Knee locking

3 Questions to Help Figure Out Your Knee Pain Cause

The following questions can help you get a better handle on the source of the pain in your knee(s) to determine if you’re suffering from arthritis or a torn meniscus. This will not lead you to a diagnosis, however. When experiencing any kind of unusual pain, always visit a Beacon specialist to get an official diagnosis and establish a plan of care.

#1 When did your knee pain begin?
The biggest difference between having a torn meniscus and arthritis is if the pain started over a period of time, suddenly or after an injury. Arthritis-related pain typically continues to increase over time and can’t be narrowed down to a specific injury. On the flipside, sudden knee pain is usually a sign of a torn meniscus.

#2 What’s your pain type?
Dull and/or constant pain typically accompanies arthritis, and meniscus tears often cause sharp pain right after sustaining a traumatic injury. In the latter, rest can help. It might go away and then return after turning the wrong way. The sides of your knee are likely to become tender, too.

#3 How old are you?
Age is a big factor in the likelihood of your knee pain cause. Arthritis is more likely to happen in older adults. A torn meniscus can happen at any age, although it’s more likely to happen to younger, more active people.

BONUS! Have you tried the Thessaly Test?
The Thessaly Test is a method used to diagnose a torn meniscus, which you can do at home.

  • Rest your hands on a counter.
  • Stand on your injured leg. Slightly bend the knee at a 20-degree angle. Bend the opposite knee to your back, with your foot completely off of the floor.
  • Keep your foot solidly planted into place. Twist your entire body by rotating your hips in a back and forth motion three times. If you experience a locking sensation, you may have a meniscus tear. 

Knee Pain? Then You KNEEd a Doctor (insert groan)

Like any pain in the body, the sooner you seek the help of a specialist the better. Beacon’s knee experts are here to help you get back to living with less pain. Contact us to schedule a time to experience the Beacon difference.

Further Reading
Knee Conditions, Symptoms and Treatments
Conditions for Knee Replacement
Osteoarthritis: What is it and How is it Treated?