For every 100,000 people in the United States, 61 of them will experience a torn meniscus at some point in their life. Meniscal tears are even more common among active duty military personnel, with an incidence rate of 87 per 100,000.
Torn Meniscus Causes & Symptoms
If you’ve experienced a meniscal tear and are planning to have surgery to repair it, keep reading for more information on how to have a successful recovery and properly rehabilitate your knee.
Before we address tips for successful rehabilitation, it’s important to understand torn meniscus causes and symptoms so you can recognize when there’s a problem and prevent it from happening again.
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that cushions the joint between the femur and tibia. Each knee joint has two menisci that can be damaged by any activity that puts pressure on the knee joint. Meniscal tears are common in athletes. A hard tackle while playing football or an abrupt pivot on the basketball court can easily cause the meniscus to tear.
Athletes aren’t the only ones at risk for meniscal tears, though. The following populations are also more likely to experience a tear:
People over the age of 30
People with osteoarthritis
People who have a history of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) problems
People who have to kneel, squat, or climb stairs regularly
Meniscal Tear Symptoms
The following are all common symptoms of a meniscal tear:
- Popping around the knee joint
- Pain, especially when the knee is touched
- Difficulty moving
- Feeling like the knee is locking, catching, or slipping
- Feeling like the knee will give out
When is Surgery Required?
There are multiple types of meniscal tears, and not all of them require surgery. Acute meniscal tears result from injuries, while degenerative tears occur gradually and come from everyday wear and tear.
People with degenerative tears often do not require surgery. In fact, some doctors have found that patients with degenerative meniscus tears did not fare any better with arthroscopic surgery than those who did not have any surgery.
Surgery is typically most effective for younger individuals who have experienced an acute meniscal tear.
Post-Surgery Rehabilitation Tips
If you’ve torn your meniscus and are planning on having surgery to repair it, these tips will ensure you have a success recovery and can get back on your feet as soon as possible.
1. Remember R.I.C.E
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E) are recommended for patients recovering from any kind of surgery, include meniscal repair. Keep these guidelines in mind to make sure you’re getting the most out of this approach:
Avoid whatever activity caused your injury and rest as often as possible.
Use an ice pack on your knee for 20 minutes at a time multiple times throughout the day.
Use a knee brace or bandage to provide compression and stabilize the knee.
Elevate the knee so it’s higher than your heart when resting or icing it to reduce swelling.
2. Start Slow
Once you start feeling a bit better and are ready to get back on your feet, it can be tempting to jump back into your regular routine.
Use crutches for as long as your doctor recommends — sometimes, it can be up to a month — and remember to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your knee.
Recruit friends and relatives to help you through the recovery process. You also will most likely not be able to drive for a few weeks after your surgery, so have a group of people on hand to drive you home from surgery, to follow-up appointments, and on various errands.
It might be frustrating to take it easy post-surgery. But, remember that it’s better to take some time off now to let your knee heal properly than to risk serious damage from doing too much, too quickly.
3. Be Consistent with Your Strengthening Exercises
After your surgery, you’ll meet with a physical therapist to start strengthening the muscles around your knee and getting your regular range of motion back.
Make sure that you’re consistent with these exercises and stick to your therapist’s directions. They have helped plenty of people recover from knee surgery and they know what they’re doing.
4. Don’t Skip Your Follow-up Appointments
When you start getting your range of motion back and feeling more like your old self, it’s easy to assume that you don’t need to see your doctor anymore. However, it’s important to go to all of your follow-up appointments to make sure everything is healing properly.
Your surgeon might notice issues that you aren’t aware of, so don’t assume that you’re good to go just because everything “feels normal” to you.
5. Protect Yourself From Future Injuries
Your surgeon will most likely recommend that you wear a knee brace after your surgery. For people who have had meniscal repair, a hinged knee brace is common. This type of brace helps control your flexion and tension in your knee and ensure a proper range of motion.
It’s important to wear this brace for as long as your doctor recommends to promote healing and prevent future injuries.
Even after you get the go-ahead to stop wearing a hinged knee brace, a sleeve or wraparound brace is still helpful to wear until you feel totally recovered. Some people continue to wear them even after they’ve recovered as a precautionary measure.
Not every meniscal tear requires surgical repair, but surgeries are quite common, and recovery depends on a number of factors, including age, weight, and medical history. You can’t always control how soon you will be back on your feet after your surgery, but, to help speed up your recovery and ensure proper healing, keep these tips in mind!
Nurse Susan has always been passionate about helping people heal. After she retired from a lifelong career as a nurse, that passion didn’t go away. She loves to use her expertise to write about the best ways to keep you and your family healthy, active, and happy.