Kellie K. Middleton, MD

What Happens If You Don’t Repair a Torn Meniscus

Jan 15, 2023
What Happens If You Don’t Repair a Torn Meniscus
Let’s face it – medical treatment for injuries can be painful, drawn out, and expensive. It can be tempting to forego this treatment when you’re injured, and instead, let your body heal on its own...

Let’s face it – medical treatment for injuries can be painful, drawn out, and expensive. It can be tempting to forego this treatment when you’re injured, and instead, let your body heal on its own.

But in the case of some injuries, such as a meniscus tear, leaving it untreated can cause you more pain and medical bills in the long run. This is a very common form of injury, particularly for professional athletes. So let’s take a look at what happens if you don’t repair a torn meniscus.

What Is A Meniscus?

The menisci are two pieces of cartilage, shaped like the letter ‘C,’ that are positioned between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). The medial meniscus can be found on the inside of the knee, and the lateral sits on the outside.

These two pieces of cartilage act as a cushion between the two bones, which helps to stabilize the knee, helps the joints to function properly, and acts as shock absorption. Since the knee joints are some of the most vulnerable parts of the body that are prone to injury, taking care of the menisci is essential.

Meniscus Tears

Meniscus Tears

Meniscus tears occur when either one of the menisci is damaged or torn during movement. It is the second most common knee injury in the US, with a prevalence rate between 12 to 14% of the population. Lateral meniscus tears are more common than medial tears.

While they are most often associated with athletes and contact sports, they can affect anyone in the general population regardless of age or activity level.


These tears are caused by direct contact or pressure on the knees, usually during certain kinds of movements such as:

  • Pivoting
  • Twisting
  • Squatting
  • Turning
  • Rotating
  • Heavy lifting

Sport is the most common cause of meniscus tears, particularly high contact sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. But they can be caused by contact or non-contact activities.

Age is also a factor in the occurrence of meniscus tears. Cartilage begins to wear down and degenerate as you age, making you more prone to tears in worn tissue.


Upon tearing your meniscus you may hear a popping sound and feel a popping sensation around the knee joint. Within 24 hours you are likely to experience some or all of these signs and symptoms:

  • Pain, stiffness, and swelling around the knee
  • A feeling of the knee locking or catching
  • Limited range of motion and difficulty straightening the leg
  • A feeling that your knee is giving way

What happens if you leave a torn meniscus untreated?

As with any knee injury, you should seek medical attention immediately if you suspect a meniscus tear. But what happens if you choose to leave your injury untreated?

Depending on the severity of the tear and where it is located, meniscus tears can technically heal on their own and without treatment or consultation. In the case of younger patients, rest and OTC pain medication may be all you need.

However, going without treatment for a torn meniscus can still leave you open to a number of issues that could otherwise be avoided, including:

Prolonged Pain

A meniscus tear is painful enough when it happens, but without treatment, you are likely to experience even more. Without physical therapy, pain medication, and professional instructions post-injury, you are putting yourself at risk of severe pain and continued locking or catching of the knee while it heals.

Difficulty Healing

If your meniscus tear heals on its own, without proper treatment, it is likely that it will heal much more slowly. This means more pain and prolonged periods of limited movement in the affected leg.

The worst case scenario, and a very possible scenario if you choose to forego treatment is that the meniscus tear will not heal at all. This all depends on the depth of the tear into the cartilage, how your body responds to the tear, and how you damaged it. If it was the result of a specific activity (while playing sports, for example) the tear will be more likely to heal on its own than if it is the result of tissue degeneration over time.

Long-Term Health Issues

Leaving a torn meniscus to heal on its own can damage the long-term health and overall structure of your knee. An untreated meniscus can lead to permanently decreased function of the knee and increase long-term health problems such as arthritis and issues in the hip joints. This is especially true for older people who suffer a torn meniscus due to degeneration.

Seeking appropriate treatment for an injury of this kind is imperative if you want to recover safely and successfully.


While any treatment will depend on the individual and the severity of their injury, there are some typical treatments that are usually recommended for meniscus tears. These include:

  • OTC and Prescription Medications: to help reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.
  • Physical Therapy: to help strengthen muscle and restore the range of motion in the knee joint. A physical therapist can also show patients how to move and exercise in ways that will reduce the risk of meniscus tears in the future.
  • Surgical Treatments: there are two surgical treatments for a meniscus tear – a meniscectomy (partial or total) and a meniscus repair. The former involves partial or total removal of the damaged meniscus, and the latter involves trimming and reshaping of the damaged meniscus, and it is then left to repair on its own.

Whether you undergo torn meniscus surgery or not, it’s important to consult a medical professional and undergo any prescribed treatment needed to help your meniscus heal. While you may only need to rest in order for your meniscus to heal itself, ignoring medical advice can put you at risk of long-term harm.

If you’ve recently injured your knee and think you may have a torn meniscus on your hands, get in touch with our team at Kellie Middleton MD. Based in Atlanta GA, we specialize in sports-related orthopedic surgery including knee injuries. You can fill in our contact form here or give us a call at 770-509-4030.