Your knee cartilage is composed of two separate wedges called menisci. Each meniscus acts as a cushion for your knee joint, and tears in a meniscus can cause significant pain and decrease your overall knee stability. Pain from torn knee cartilage usually stays localized in the area of your knee, although instability in your knee may potentially trigger pain in your ankle.
Knee Cartilage Tears
Knee cartilage tears often occur during sports activities that require squatting and twisting of your knee, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, AAOS. You may also injure your cartilage as a result of direct physical trauma. If you are older, you may also experience tears as a result of degenerative processes that cause your cartilage to thin and weaken over time. If you have weakened knee cartilage, even common, everyday activities or awkward movements can trigger a tear.
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The University of Washington School of Medicine lists common symptoms of a meniscus tear that include localized pain and swelling, and a locking or catching of tissue that can immobilize your knee in a bent position. The pain of a tear typically occurs away from your kneecap on the lateral or medial, or outside and inside, surfaces of your knee. Swelling may not occur until a day after your injury, and often does not arise in the same area where you experience pain. Fluid buildup from a cartilage tear may also encourage a slightly bent knee posture. If this is the case, you may develop abnormal hamstring tightness or a form of joint stiffness called contracture.
Additional Potential Symptoms
The AAOS and the Mayo Clinic list additional potential symptoms of a knee cartilage tear that include a popping sensation in your knee, pain in your knee when you try to walk, and instability that causes your knee to give way when you place weight on it. In most cases, individuals with meniscus tears can walk, and well-trained athletes may even continue performing physical activities when a tear is present.
If you have pain in the frontal areas of your tibias, or shins, you may have a condition called shin splints, the Mayo Clinic reports. This injury commonly occurs when activities such as running or jogging generate more stress than your tibias and their associated tissues can safely tolerate. In addition to pain, shin splints can also trigger swelling. Initially, your shin splint symptoms may subside when you end your physical activities. However, without treatment, your pain will potentially become constant.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine's Medline Plus lists potential causes of ankle pain that include ligament injuries called sprains and damage to your ankle cartilage, tendons or blood vessels. In some cases, problems that begin in your knee can also promote the appearance of ankle pain. By logical extension, the instability of torn knee cartilage could be the source of this type of pain. Consult your doctor for information on proper diagnosis and treatment of knee cartilage tears, shin splints and ankle pain.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.