The accuracy of joint line tenderness by physical examination in the diagnosis of meniscal tears

Arthroscopy. 2003 Oct;19(8):850-4. doi: 10.1016/s0749-8063(03)00736-9.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to document the accuracy of joint line tenderness in the diagnosis of meniscal tears.

Type of study: Prospective cohort study.

Methods: There were 104 male recruits (age range, 18 to 20 years; mean, 19.2 years) with suspected meniscal lesions who underwent arthroscopy. A thorough history and physical examination was performed on each patient by a physician with 4 years' experience on arthroscopic knee surgery. Twenty-six (25%) patients sustained injuries while in the Turkish Army, and 78 patients (75%) sustained injuries before they came to the army. On physical examination, assessment of joint line tenderness at the lateral and medial joint lines was performed with the patient's knee flexed 90 degrees. The accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of joint line tenderness for medial and lateral sides were calculated based on arthroscopic findings.

Results: In 104 knees, the diagnosis was correct in 71 (68%) and incorrect in 33 (32%) knees. A total of 37 medial meniscal tears and 27 lateral meniscal tears were identified at arthroscopy. Other pathology included 11 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, 5 medial femoral chondral lesions, 4 chondromalacia patellae, and 1 medial plica. No discernable abnormalities were seen in 21 knees. A preoperative diagnosis of a medial meniscal tear was made in 54 knees and 32 were confirmed at arthroscopy. A lateral meniscus tear was suspected in 27 knees and confirmed in 25. Five medial meniscus and 2 lateral meniscus tears were seen at arthroscopy. These had not been suspected with tenderness over the joint line. The accuracy of the test was lower with the presence of ACL lesions and condromalacia patella.

Conclusions: I concluded that joint line tenderness as a test for lateral meniscal tears is accurate (96%), sensitive (89%), and specific (97%). However, for medial meniscal tears, rates are lower.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
  • Arthroscopy
  • Cartilage Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / complications
  • Knee Injuries / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Military Personnel
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Patella / pathology
  • Physical Examination*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tibial Meniscus Injuries*