Physical Therapy for Meniscus Tears
Physical therapy (rehabilitation) is the main non-surgical treatment for meniscus tears at Shelbourne Knee Center. We focus on:
- Preventing or eliminating swelling.
- Regaining full range of motion (the ability to straighten and bend your knee).
- Strengthening your leg.
- Restoring normal walking.
Our research shows that most meniscus tears will heal with physical therapy.
A Personal Guide for Your Physical Therapy
Whether you have physical therapy as your main treatment or before and after surgery, you’ll work with the same physical therapist or athletic trainer the whole time. He or she will customize a research-based rehab program for you.
You’ll complete most of the therapy at home, with periodic visits to Shelbourne Knee Center, which has a fully equipped rehab gym.
Your physical therapist or athletic trainer will guide you through the entire process, including:
- Helping you understand what you need to do to have a good result.
- Preparing you for surgery, if you’re having surgery.
- Coaching you through your physical therapy.
If surgery is necessary, doing physical therapy first helps ensure a better result and a faster recovery.
Other Non-Surgical Treatments for Meniscus Tears
Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) and over-the-counter pain medicines are other non-surgical treatments for meniscus tears that cause symptoms.
RICE helps reduce pain and swelling:
- Rest: Take a break from tough physical activity Reduce or stop using the injured leg. Don’t stand on it. Once the acute injury has improved, start using the leg normally as soon as possible.
- Ice: Use ice for the first few days after the injury. Use ice for about 20 minutes a day from about 4 times a day to every hour.
- Compression: Wear an elastic bandages on your knee.
- Elevation: Elevate the injured knee so it’s higher than your heart. Lay down and use a pillow under your knee to help elevate it.
Over-the-counter pain medicines relieve pain and inflammation from meniscus tears. Pain medicines include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or others)
- Naproxen (Aleve or others).
Surgery for Meniscus Tears
If surgery is necessary, Shelbourne Knee Center uses minimally-invasive knee arthroscopy.
Arthroscopy lets orthopedic surgeons see inside the knee without making a large cut (incision) in the knee. The surgeon operates through a few small incisions—each about the size of a buttonhole.
A tiny camera inserted through one incision shows the inside of the knee on a high-definition video monitor. The orthopedic surgeon looks at the inside of the knee and does the procedure using tiny instruments inserted into the other incisions.
Meniscus tears caused from chronic wear and tear in the joint are treated with removal of the tear with arthroscopy.
Meniscus tears that occur from acute injury in conjunction with an ACL tear can be treated with arthroscopy by either repairing the meniscus with stitches or trephination or by leaving the tear alone. Most orthopedic surgeons repair the torn meniscus by stitching the pieces together. At Shelbourne Knee Center, most of the time we use trephination instead of stitches for repair.
Like stitching, trephination uses a needle to make many holes in the meniscus that create a channel to the outside edge of the meniscus where there is a good blood supply. The blood fills the newly created channels and helps the torn meniscus heal.
Our research shows that trephination works best for most types of meniscus tears.
When necessary, we do regular meniscus repair with stitches.
Physical Therapy After Surgery
Many orthopedic surgeons restrict weight-bearing for six weeks after meniscus repair. Our research shows that this isn’t necessary. Restoring full range of motion and allowing weight bearing helps you recover faster.
Physical therapy after surgery will help you:
- Control swelling.
- Regain full straightening of your knee (extension).
- Regain full bending of your knee (flexion).
- Return to full knee strength.
You’ll do most of your exercises at home, but will come back to the office for some physical therapy visits. You’ll continue to work with your personal physical therapist or athletic trainer.