Some meniscal tears, especially in relatively inactive people, will go on to become asymptomatic. This is particularly true in older patients.
Unfortunately, for many people the symptoms do not go away completely and may actually worsen over time. This may actually be due to a worsening of the tear. The knee can occasionally lock up on the patient, preventing them from bending or straightening the knee. Few meniscal tears will heal on their own in the way that an ankle sprain, for instance, will. Only very small tears that are in the periphery of the meniscal tissue, and usually only in young patients, will heal on their own. Those tears associated with an unstable knee, such as when a ligament injury occurs, have a poorer prognosis due to their risk of re-injury.
Treatment must be individualized according to the symptoms and the patient’s activity level. Some patients can live with a meniscal tear without significant worsening over time and need have nothing done after the initial recovery phase. Others will not be able to function at their pre-injury level without treatment.