Objectives: Meniscal pathology in which the aetiology is often unclear is a frequent finding on knee MRI. This study investigates potential risk factors for medial meniscal lesions or extrusion in middle-aged and elderly persons. Methods: Prospective cohort study using population-based subjects from Birmingham, Alabama and Iowa City, Iowa, USA (the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study). 644 men and women aged 50-79 years with or at high risk of knee osteoarthritis (Kellgren and Lawrence grade 0-2) but with normal medial meniscal status at baseline were studied. Paired baseline and 30-month 1.0 T knee MRI were scored for meniscal lesions and extrusion (pathology) and the following systemic, knee-specific and compartment-specific potential risk factors were evaluated: age, sex, body mass index, bony enlargement of finger joints, knee trauma, leg-length inequality and knee alignment. Results: Of 791 knees, 77 (9.7%) had medial meniscal pathology at 30 months follow-up. 61 of the 77 (81%) had no report of trauma during follow-up. Including all potential risk factors in the multivariable model, the adjusted OR for medial meniscal pathology was 4.14 (95% CI 2.06 to 8.31) for knee trauma during follow-up, 1.64 (1.00 to 2.70) for five or more bony enlargements of finger joints (vs ≤4) and 2.00 (1.18 to 3.40) for varus alignment (vs not varus) at baseline examination. Obesity was a risk factor for the development of meniscal extrusion, OR 3.04 (1.04 to 8.93) but not for meniscal lesions, OR 1.15 (0.52 to 2.54). Conclusions: Apart from knee trauma, possible generalised osteoarthritis, expressed as multiple bony enlargements of finger joints, varus alignment and obesity are risk factors for medial meniscal pathology.