Background: Meniscal pathology is a commonly seen orthopedic condition that can affect a wide age range of patients. Athletes subject their menisci to an increased amount of stress during their careers and may increase their risk of meniscal pathology.
Objective: The purpose of this systematic review is to evaluate the prevalence of isolated meniscal pathology in asymptomatic athletes.
Methods: A systematic review was undertaken to determine the prevalence of meniscal pathology in asymptomatic athletes. A search of multiple databases was conducted. Recreational and higher-level athletes were included. Fourteen articles including 295 athletes (208 male, 87 female) were identified for inclusion (age range 14-66 years, mean 31.2 years). Meniscal pathology was visualized with magnetic resonance imaging and graded on a 1-4 scale (grades 1 and 2 indicating intrasubstance damage, grades 3 and 4 indicating a tear).
Results: There was an overall prevalence of 27.2 % (105/386) of knees with intrasubstance meniscal damage (grades 1 and 2), and 3.9 % (15/386) of knees with a tear (grades 3 and 4). When athletes were split into those who participate in pivoting sports versus non-pivoting sports, pivoting athletes showed an overall prevalence of 15.3 % (31/202) of knees with intrasubstance meniscal pathology and 2.5 % (5/202) of knees with a tear. Non-pivoting athletes showed a prevalence of 54.5 % (61/112) of knees with intrasubstance meniscal pathology and 5.4 % (6/112) of knees with a tear.
Conclusion: The overall prevalence of isolated meniscal pathology in asymptomatic athletes was 31.1 % (27.2 % with intrasubstance meniscal damage and 3.9 % with a meniscal tear). More studies of age-comparable, non-athletic populations are necessary for direct comparison with these groups.