Physical therapy is often the recommended method to heal a ruptured meniscus in the knee. In fact, patients generally find relief within weeks.
Lining both sides of the knee are two wedge-shaped bands of cartilage called menisci that give the joint its range of motion. If your meniscus is torn, you’ll likely hear a popping sound, then experience pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness that prevents your knee from flexing.
The primary cause of a meniscus tear is arthritis. But it can occur during sports that require you to plant and pivot your feet, which increases the chances of a knee injury. A rupture of the meniscus may occur on the inside or outside the knee, with the tear either vertical or horizontal. There may be tears in the surrounding cartilage, as well.
Like many orthopedic disorders, a meniscus tear generally responds well to physical therapy. In fact, conservative methods are the preferred treatment before surgery is considered.
How a Meniscus Tear is Treated
The severity of the meniscus tear dictates your treatment plan. If arthritis caused the rupture or if the tear is stable, physical therapy to alleviate the pain and swelling is often recommended. Typically, the program includes rest, icing, compression, and elevation of the knee.
Your physical therapist will likely show you a series of exercises to restore the knee’s full extension and strengthen your quad and hip muscles. There are also a few exercises you can try at home, including:
Heel Slides. To unlock your knee, try heel slides. For this exercise, lie on your back and gradually move your heel up to your buttocks, bending the joint as much as you can without causing pain. Then slowly straighten your leg. Do 10 repetitions.
Straight Leg Raises. Strong hips keep your knees in alignment, so it’s important to maintain your hip strength. You can accomplish this by doing straight leg raises. Start by reclining on your back, then bend the healthy knee and straighten the injured leg. Lift the straight leg up about 12 to 15 inches, always maintaining a straight line. Hold that position for a few seconds, and then lower the leg slowly. Repeat 15 times.
Single Leg Stance. If your knee is stiff for a long time, you may lose your sense of proprioception, or your awareness of how your body is positioned. This impacts your ability to know how much stress to put on your injured knee. Standing on one leg can help you improve your balance and gain a sense of how much pressure to put on the joint. While standing on one leg, it’s a good idea to have something to grasp while you practice balancing.
Relearn How to Jump and Hop. Once you’ve achieved a full range of motion, improved your balance, and built your muscle strength, it’s time to retrain your body to jump and hop so you can return to more strenuous activities. Among the recommended workouts are single leg hops, jump lunges, and lateral plyometric hops. Instead of moving forward, lateral hops are based on side-to-side movements.
Biking. Pedaling a stationary bike boosts knee flexibility, strengthens muscles, and builds up stamina. Plus, because biking is a low-impact exercise, it lessens the pressure on your knee. Be sure to check with your doctor about when you can start biking and how often. To begin, you can probably bike 20 to 30 minutes a few days per week.
Physical therapy will generally reduce the discomfort and swelling of a meniscus tear within weeks. For patients with a significant tear or who continue to experience pain after physical therapy, arthroscopic surgery is also an option. During this procedure, a surgeon will either trim the meniscus cartilage or repair it. Afterwards, you’ll wear a brace or walk with a cane for a few days. Surgery is followed by a program of physical therapy, and many patients return to their normal activities within days.
Healing a Meniscus Tear
If you’ve been dealing with knee pain and stiffness, one of the orthopedic doctors at New York Bone and Joint Specialists can diagnose your condition and recommend effective treatment options. Our staff has treated a variety of orthopedic injuries, and we work with our patients to devise a personalized therapy plan. Our goal is to ensure that patients are pain-free and can resume their daily activities as soon as possible.
Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.