The menisci serve several important biomechanical functions in the knee. They distribute stresses over a broad area of articular cartilage, absorb shocks during dynamic loading, and probably assist in joint lubrication. These functions enhance the ability of articular cartilage to provide a smooth, near-frictionless articulation and to distribute loads evenly to the underlying bone of the femur and tibia. In addition, the menisci provide stability to the injured knee when the cruciate ligaments or other primary stabilizers are deficient. The ability to perform these mechanical functions is based on the intrinsic material properties of the menisci as well as their gross anatomic structure and attachments. The material properties of the menisci are determined by their biochemical composition and, perhaps more important, by the organization and interactions of the major tissue constituents: water, proteoglycan, and collagen. Interactions among the important constituents of the fibrocartilage matrix cause meniscal tissue to behave as a fiber-reinforced, porous, permeable composite material similar to articular cartilage, in which frictional drag caused by fluid flow governs its response to dynamic loading. The menisci are one-half as stiff in compression and dissipate more energy under dynamic loading than articular cartilage. Energy dissipation, or shock absorption, by the menisci is the result of high frictional drag caused by low permeability of the matrix, which is about one-sixth as permeable as articular cartilage. The dynamic shear modulus of meniscal tissue is only one-fourth to one-sixth as great as that of articular cartilage. The coarse, circumferential Type I collagen fiber bundles of the meniscus give the tissue great tensile stiffness (range, 100–300 megapascals) and strength. The highly oriented collagen ultrastructure of the menisci makes the tissue anisotropic in tension, compression, and shear and appears to dominate its behavior under all loading conditions.
From the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Columbia University, New York, New York.
Reprint requests to Van C. Mow, Ph.D., Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Black Building #1412, 630 W. 168th St., New York, NY 10032.
Supported by NIH grant AR-38728.
Received: June 5, 1989.