5 Post-Surgery Rehabilitation Tips for Recovering from a Torn Meniscus

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
  • Swelling
  • 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.

Key Takeaways
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.

6 Responses to 5 Post-Surgery Rehabilitation Tips for Recovering from a Torn Meniscus

  1. Henry Killingsworth January 15, 2020 at 1:27 pm #

    I thought it was interesting when you explained that it is important to be consistent with your muscle exercises when healing after surgery. My uncle is wanting to get surgery on his knee soon. It would probably be a good idea for him to find a physical therapist that can help him recover.

  2. Kathy March 3, 2022 at 4:05 pm #

    I had surgery in nov 21
    I’m still not healthy.
    I wasn’t told to do PT at first and def no brace.
    But then heard from a FRIEND I was supposed to.. so I researched the exercises and started them a month ago.
    I’m wondering if Its worse and will not heal because i didn’t do “post” right

    • Samantha Johnson December 12, 2022 at 11:34 am #

      Hey Kathy, I had surgery the same day as you. I’m sorry you didn’t get anything you should have gotten post surgery. Today was my first day of PT because my appointments kept getting canceled by some unknown source. I do my exercises 5-10 times a day, usually when I’m sitting idle. I hope your recovery goes better now that you have some resources. You MAY have prolonged your recovery (at no fault of your own) but it should start to get better. Are you using crutches?

  3. Dorothy December 24, 2022 at 10:51 am #

    I had meniscus surgery on December 2 and the first couple of days I was doing great, then on about the 3rd day it was so painful to move. I opted to use a walker in stead of crutches was tat a mistake? Went for my post op visit and told the doctor the doctor how bad it hurt. He said it was going to hurt more because they have to move muscles and stuff around to fix the tear and also because of the arthritis. He never said anything about exercises, my husband asked about a brace and the doctor didn’t think that was a good idea and I should come back in 6 weeks. The doctor never mentioned any exercises, my knee hurts all the way down to my ankle and gets stiff. I have been icing and elevating but it still hurts like heck. Thank you for letting me complain and I hope you can give me some suggestions to relieve the pain

  4. Marie December 26, 2022 at 10:50 pm #

    I had 2 meniscus tears and a ruptured baker’s cyst
    My surgery was December 14th. I’m still in so much pain. First because I have been on strong pain meds for years and was told by the anesthesiologist and my surgeon it’s like taking nothing after surgery because my body is use to taking them.
    Plus I have lymphedema and vascular problems which makes surgery worse.I only used crutches for 2 days.
    It’s a pain and you don’t have any free hands.
    This is my third meniscus surgery and the worst recovery ever. Don’t know what to do.😩

  5. Shaz January 4, 2023 at 1:06 am #

    My surgery was on 14 December, bilateral arthoscopy. I commenced exercising on the same day as the surgery. The exercises are so important to get the quads firing up again.

    My left knee is progressing well & I am only getting some slight pain. My right knee was hurting the moment I woke up in recovery and hasn’t really stopped. I pushed through with the exercises (knee bending & knee lifts), three times a day. I’m still using ice packs 3 to 4 times a day.

    I’ve had three ops on my left knee before & this is the first one on my right. I was expecting to be back to my normal activities (hiking) after 2 weeks. It’s now 3 weeks and I’m hobbling due to my right knee. Funny how my left knee is doing so well & my right one isn’t. Same exercise routine, same operation, same day.

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