Rehabilitation for a Torn Meniscus

A torn meniscus is a common injury of the knee, typically the result of forcefully rotating the knee while it is bearing weight. The meniscus, a piece of cartilage that functions as a shock absorber, can also tear as a result of the degenerative changes that occur during aging. In many cases, a torn meniscus may go undetected, but some patients may experience intense pain with this injury. Although arthroscopic surgery is sometimes necessary to repair the tear, in many cases physical therapy treatments may be all that is needed. If surgery is necessary, postsurgical rehabilitation will be required during recovery.

Nonsurgical Rehabilitation for a Torn Meniscus

If pain from a torn meniscus persists after rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), a program of physical therapy is prescribed, usually two to three days a week for at least 6 weeks. Studies have shown that a full program of physical therapy is often as helpful in the long term as surgical intervention in getting a patient with a torn meniscus back to normal. Simple exercises performed under the guidance of a trained professional:

  • Help to improve and maintain muscle strength
  • Improve balance and flexibility
  • Maintain proper leg function

In addition to engaging in a program of therapeutic exercises at a physical rehabilitation center, patients are also given exercises to do at home to reinforce treatment. It is important, however, that patients perform only the recommended exercises and do not overdo the routine since reinjury is a danger. If it seems that physical therapy is not providing sufficient relief, surgery to repair the torn meniscus may be considered.

Rehabilitation After Surgery for a Torn Meniscus

There are three types of surgical procedures that may be performed for a meniscus tear, depending on the patient's specific situation: a partial meniscectomy, a total meniscectomy, and a meniscal transplant. Whichever operation is performed, physical rehabilitation will be necessary. After surgery, the affected knee will have to be immobilized for several months, but a program of physical therapy will begin as soon as possible.

Postsurgical physical therapy will consist of some combination of the following:

  • Exercises for strength, balance and flexibility
  • Application of heat to improve circulation
  • Application of ice to reduce inflammation
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Active release technique (ART) to improve joint articulation
  • Kinesio taping to increase support and reduce swelling

While recovery from meniscal surgery can take several months, the patient should experience much less pain and increased strength and mobility during recovery as a result of physical rehabilitation. Arch supports or orthotics may also be recommended to help support the feet and keep them in a proper position to prevent future injury.

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