Bucket Handle Tear Meniscus – Learn All You Need To Know Here

This morning, I had a very frightening experience. While I was doing wide feet squat, I heard a locking sound in my knees! I immediately stopped my workout worried I had seriously injured my knee. I have never felt such a sensation before so I looked for what could be the reason behind the locking. I discovered something called a bucket handle tear meniscus.

Basically, the tear is in your meniscus - the cartilage that acts as a cushion between your two bones in your knee. The tear is called a bucket handle tear because it occurs in the outer part of the meniscus making it resemble a bucket handle.

There is a lot every runner should know about these tears so I’ll break down the information for you.


What Causes A Bucket Handle Tear?

What Causes A Bucket Handle Tear

To try and better understand how the meniscus works and how it can tear, let’s think of the meniscus as a horseshoe shape. This ‘horseshoe’ lies in-between your thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia). Each knee joint has two menisci which act as a cushion for your joint. (1)

The bad news is that a bucket handle meniscus tear can happen with simple movements such as getting up too quickly from a squatting position.

This is probably what I did when I was squatting.  Other activities that can result in a tear are activities that put pressure on the joint such as a sudden change in direction during your run. (2)

What Are The Risk Factors?

Level Of Activity

I read about a Greek dancer who was only 28 years old but had a bucket handle meniscal tear. Her injury was due to vigorous internal rotation of the femur on the tibia with the knee in flexion. Her case shows that a major risk factor is the level of activity you engage in. (3)

Your Age

The next risk factor isn’t something I am ready to admit-age. The tissue that forms the menisci weakens with age making the menisci prone to degeneration and tearing. These changes usually begin in the early 30’s. It is common for older people to have a bucket handle tear as a result of a minor injury such as squatting. Sadly, I have to admit I probably fall into this category now.

  • If you have previous knee injuries, you are also at higher risk of tearing your meniscus.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Bucket Handle Tear?

What Are The Symptoms Of A Bucket Handle Tear

One of the most obvious symptoms of a meniscus tear is a popping sensation at the moment of injury. Although you may be able to walk on your injured knee, your knee will slowly swell and stiffen in the succeeding days. (4)

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Inability to move the knee through a full range of motion
  • Catching or locking of your knee

At this point, I was really hoping my injury wasn’t as serious as a meniscus tear. I tried walking on my injured leg and had no problems. So far, I can also move my knee in all directions and the pain I felt initially is starting to subside. I have my fingers crossed

How Is A Bucket Handle Tear Diagnosed?

For those who love DIY's, there are a few physical examinations that you can do at home to give you an idea whether you have a bucket handle tear. Still, these tests are not conclusive and after a professional conduct a physical examination, he may recommend one or more of these torn meniscus tests.

  • MRI - using radio waves and a strong magnetic field, detailed images of the tissue in your knee can be produced. It is considered one of the best imaging tests to detect a bucket handle tear.
  • X-Rays - although an x-ray will not show the cartilage of the knee, it may help to rule out other possible conditions.
  • Arthroscopy - during this test, arthroscopy is used to examine inside your knee. The device has a light and small camera and is inserted through a tiny incision near your knee.

I’m still hoping that I don’t need to get any of these tests and my symptoms go away by themselves. I have never been a fan of doctors and the thought of anything inserted into my body gives me the creeps!

How Can I Prepare For My Doctor’s Appointment?

How Can I Prepare For My Doctor’s Appointment

Despite all my positivity, I realized the fact that I would have to face the possibility of having to go to the doctor. If ever that day comes, I wanted to be prepared. I listed some questions I was sure the doctor would ask:

  • How and when did the injury occur?
  • ​What were you doing when the injury happened?
  • ​What did you feel at the moment of injury?
  • ​Did you experience a popping sound when it happened?
  • ​Did you experience any swelling afterward?
  • ​What first aid did you perform to alleviate the pain?
  • ​How did your symptoms progress? Continuous or occasional?
  • ​Where there any specific movements that seemed to improve or worsen your symptoms?
  • ​Do you feel a “locking” sensation whenever you try to move your knee?
  • ​Do you have the feeling that your knee will give way?

There may be more things you can think about what your doctor might want to know. Do share with me any other questions you think I should get ready for.

How Is A Bucket Handle Tear Treated?

Like any other injury, the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method is the first aid treatment for a bucket handle tear.

If you have no loss of joint function, have minimal pain and swelling, non-operative treatment is recommended as a priority. According to one study, 46% of patients who opted for non-surgical methods had the same functional improvement as those who opted for operation. (6)

If your injury is more severe, it may be possible for your doctor to manipulate the tear into proper position but still, surgery is needed to address the issue. Arthroscopy is the method used to repair a bucket handle tear.

During the procedure, the arthroscopy is conducted by placing a small camera in the knee to see the meniscus tear. In most cases, bucket handle tears are usually flipped over and stuck in the middle of the knee. So during the procedure, the flat needs to be put back into its position. If the tear is repairable, it is stitched back. Otherwise, it is cut out. (7)

What Is The Recovery Bucket Handle Tear?

What Is The Recovery Bucket Handle Tear

Since arthroscopic surgery only requires a small incision, recovery is quite fast. After surgery, you will need to wear crutches and brace to protect the stitches while your meniscus heals. (8)

The duration takes for you to get back to running varies from person to person. Usually, there are a few activity restrictions initially but these depend on your tolerance level.

Always make sure to check with your doctor before doing any rehabilitation exercises to make sure you don’t prolong your recovery time. If you experience knee popping after meniscus surgery during rehabilitation, immediately consult your physician.

In most cases, it is possible to return to normal walking between a few days to a week and jogging within a month. The torn meniscus recovery time for athletes is 3 to 6 months or more.


Having a bucket handle tear is not something I’m looking forward to. On the positive side, I feel much more prepared now that I know what to expect if the worst comes to the worst.

Like any runner, any injury is a big hurdle. I am still hopeful that I won’t need to go to a doctor to check my knee but if I do, I know I’ll be back to running as soon as I can.

What did you think about this article? Is there any other information you'd like to share with me about the condition? What do you think I should do to avoid future injuries? I'll appreciate all your ideas in the comments below. Also, do share this information with others.