Common injuries in high-level and recreational athletes, nonathletes, and the elderly are medial and lateral meniscus tears. Diagnosis of meniscus tears is done with clinical exam, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and arthroscopy. The gold standard is arthroscopy, but accuracy of a clinical exam versus MRI diagnosis of meniscus tears is in question. A clinician’s ability to detect a meniscus tear is beneficial to the patient from a timing standpoint. The process of obtaining an MRI and results could be lengthy, but if the meniscus tear is accurately diagnosed clinically, the patient could be suspended from athletics or specific job duties to prevent further injury. In addition, rehabilitation could be initiated immediately, resulting in better outcomes for the patient. The ability to diagnose a meniscus tear clinically could initiate the rehabilitation process much sooner than waiting for MRI testing and results. Beginning the rehabilitation phase earlier may lead to faster postoperative rehabilitation and better patient outcomes. Clinical detection of a meniscus tear will facilitate possible suspension, early treatment, and rehabilitation recommendations, but the MRI will provide more specific information about the injury, including type and location of tear. Thus, surgical decisions such as operative versus nonoperative or meniscectomy versus repair would be based on MRI results.
Focused Clinical Question:
Is a clinical exam as accurate as an MRI scan for diagnosing meniscus tears?
The authors are with the Div of Athletic Training, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA.