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Meniscal cyst

Meniscal cysts occurs when synovial fluid becomes encysted, often secondary to a meniscal tear. When they extend beyond the margins of the meniscus they are termed parameniscal cysts.


The frequency of these cysts is also a matter of controversy. In general they are thought to present in ~5% of knee MR studies 4.

Clinical presentation

Clinically the patient with meniscal cysts may present with a palpable soft tissue swelling with or without knee pain.


There are multiple theories regarding the aetiology of meniscal cysts.

Surgical and arthroscopic series report lateral meniscal cysts as a more frequent occurrence as compared to their medial counterparts. Systematic review of MR literature says that frequency of medial and lateral meniscal cysts is almost the same 1. In ~4% of cases, meniscal cysts may involve both menisci within the same knee 5.

  • discoid meniscus 11
  • while meniscal tears are associated with the vast majority of cysts, anteriorly located lateral parameniscal cysts are less likely to have underlying meniscal tears 9
  • some authors suggest a critical size of a meniscal tear at 12mm along the circumferential axis as identified using MRI, as a discrimination cut off for parameniscal cyst formation 10

Radiographic features

The cysts of medial meniscus usually are along the posterior aspect of posterior horn whereas those of lateral meniscus are along the anterior/anterolateral aspect of the anterior horn or body.

Plain film

Plain radiographs may show soft tissue swelling at expected locations.


High resolution musculoskeletal ultrasound can be highly sensitive and usually shows anechoic or more commonly hypoechoic lesion in keeping with the cystic nature of the lesion. It may also demonstrate the associated meniscal tear.


MRI is the investigation of choice for comprehensive imaging of the knee. Many of the cysts are non-palpable and these patients present with knee pain hence MRI can demonstrate the meniscal tear as well as the cyst.

Intracystic signal characteristics include:

  • T2: high signal (but often not as high as synovial fluid 4)
  • T1 C+ (Gd): no enhancement

MRI may be more sensitive than arthroscopy in detecting cysts since arthroscopic evaluation of the posterior region of the knee joint (posterior to the posterior horn) is limited. For definite diagnosis of para/meniscal cyst one should confirm not only the presence of the cyst but also meniscal tear and communication between them; otherwise it should be reported as possible meniscal cyst.

Treatment and prognosis

Surgical excision of the cyst can be performed along with repair of the underlying meniscal tear.

Based on imaging findings treatment of a cyst differs:

  • if communicating meniscal tear present it can be treated arthroscopicly
  • if noncommunicating meniscal tear present open surgery required 

Longstanding large cysts may cause erosions or scalloping of the adjacent bone.

Differential diagnosis

As a broad differential consider other cyst like lesions around the knee

Related articles

Knee pathology

The knee is a complex synovial joint that can be affected by a range of pathologies:

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