Torn Meniscus Recovery Time and Treatment
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The meniscus is a thick cartilage structure that sits between the two bones of the knee joint. The meniscus is composed of two C-shaped parts, the medial meniscus is on the inside half of the knee and the lateral meniscus is on the outside half of the knee joint. Injury to the medial meniscus, in the form of a tear, is the most common injury to the knee. There are many different locations and types of tears which will impact how the injury is treated and the likely outcomes.
The posterior horn is an anatomical part of each of the menisci. The C shaped menisci have a main body, which is the wider mid section, and anterior and posterior horns, these are the tapered ends with a resemblance to a horn. The most common location for a meniscus tear is the posterior horn of the medial meniscus.
Injury occurs due to excessive force through the meniscus. Typically this will be with a rotation or twist, or a sudden change of speed or direction, or repeated high impact such as running or jumping. Injury specifically to the posterior horn is more likely to occur when the knee is flexed.
In most cases a meniscus tear can heal on its own provided it is given the right opportunity to recover. This includes avoiding movements and activities that apply stress to the meniscus such as running, jumping, twisting and deep squatting.
Helping reduce the pain and inflammation with ice is helpful in the acute stages and physical therapy can be invaluable to guide your rehab exercises and recovery.
In most cases a meniscus tear with improve with physical therapy. Surgery is commonly only needed in cases where symptoms of instability or giving way, and locking of the joint occur. On some occasions, surgery will be offered for those injuries that have not improved with conservative management and rehabilitation exercises over a 3 month period.
Walking is a low-impact exercise, generally performed in a straight line and the knee remains fairly straight. Therefore, it is usually fine to continue using this as a form of exercise when you have a torn meniscus. However, in the acute phase and if it is specifically painful to walk, the volume of walking should be reduced. Walking on flat even ground and with supportive cushioned shoes can also help.
Cycling is a good exercise for recovery from a meniscus tear, as it is a very low impact and straight-lined exercise. Issues may arise if the range of movement of the knee is very limited by the injury and swelling and unable to complete the revolution of the pedal smoothly. Using shoes that are not fixed to the pedal, and choosing lower gears will reduce the stress on the healing meniscus.
For most medial meniscus tears, conservative treatment, including physical therapy is the best course of action. In the acute phase of swelling and pain, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can be used to help settle down the inflamed knee joint. In this period gentle mobility of bending and straightening the knee without additional resistance is very helpful.
The following phase is best completed under the guidance of a physical therapist. It will include mobility exercises and stretches to regain any loss of range of movement of the joint as well as strengthening and muscle activation exercises to improve the strength and stability of the knee joint.
In the minority of cases, further interventions such as injections or surgery may be required. Please read more about treatment in our article: Torn Meniscus Recovery Time and Treatment and about exercises in our article: Meniscus Tear Exercises.
This is not medical advice. We recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack. He offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments for £45.