The menisci of the knee joint. Anatomical and functional characteristics, and a rationale for clinical treatment

J Anat. 1998 Aug;193 ( Pt 2)(Pt 2):161-78. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-7580.1998.19320161.x.


The menisci and their insertions into bone (entheses) represent a functional unit. Thanks to their firm entheses, the menisci are able to distribute loads and therefore reduce the stresses on the tibia, a function which is regarded essential for cartilage protection and prevention of osteoarthrosis. The tissue of the hypocellular meniscal body consists mainly of water and a dense elaborate type I collagen network with a predominantly circumferential alignment. The content of different collagens, proteoglycans and nonproteoglycan proteins shows significant regional variations probably reflecting functional adaptation. The meniscal horns are attached via meniscal insertional ligaments mainly to tibial bone. At the enthesis, the fibres of the insertional ligaments attach to bone via uncalcified and calcified fibrocartilages. This anatomical configuration of gradual transition from soft to hard tissue, which is identical to other ligament entheses, is certainly essential for normal mechanical function and probably protects this vulnerable transition between 2 biomechanically different tissues from failure. Clinical treatment of meniscal tears needs to be based on these special anatomical and functional characteristics. Partial meniscectomy will preserve some of the load distribution function of the meniscus only when the meniscal body enthesis entity is preserved. Repair of peripheral longitudinal tears will heal and probably preserve the load distribution function of the meniscus, whereas radial tears through the whole meniscal periphery or more central and complex tears may be induced to heal, but probably do not preserve the load distribution function. There is no proof that replacement of the meniscus with an allograft can reestablish some of the important meniscal functions, and thereby prevent or reduce the development of osteoarthrosis which is common after meniscectomy. After implantation, major problems are the remodelling of the graft to inferior structural, biochemical and mechanical properties and its insufficient fixation to bone which fails to duplicate a normal anatomical configuration and therefore a functional meniscal enthesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Hindlimb
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / surgery
  • Menisci, Tibial / anatomy & histology*
  • Menisci, Tibial / physiology
  • Menisci, Tibial / surgery
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Rabbits