Rehabilitation for a Torn Meniscus
A torn meniscus is a common knee injury, and 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 goes undetected; in some, however, they cause intense pain. Although arthroscopic surgery is sometimes necessary to repair a tear, in many cases physical therapy is all that is needed. If arthroscopic surgery is necessary, postsurgical physical therapy is required.
If pain from a torn meniscus persists after rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), a program of physical therapy is prescribed. It usually takes place 2 to 3 days a week, for at least 6 weeks. Studies have shown that a full program of physical therapy is, in the long term, often as helpful as surgery in getting a patient with a torn meniscus back to normal. Simple exercises performed under the guidance of a trained professional help do the following:
- 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, a patient is given exercises to do at home to reinforce treatment. It is important, however, that a patient perform only the type and number of recommended exercises, because reinjury is a danger. If it seems that physical therapy is not providing sufficient relief, surgery to repair the torn meniscus may be considered.
There are three types of surgeries that are performed for a meniscus tear: partial meniscectomy, total meniscectomy and meniscal transplant. Which one is chosen depends on the patient's specific situation; all require physical rehabilitation. After surgery, the affected knee is immobilized for several months, but a program of physical therapy begins as soon as possible.
Postsurgical physical therapy consists of some combination of the following:
- Exercises for strength, balance and flexibility
- Application of heat to improve circulation
- Application of ice to reduce inflammation
- Active-release technique (ART) to improve joint articulation
- Kinesio taping to increase support, and reduce swelling
Although recovery from meniscal surgery can take several months, a patient should, as a result of physical rehabilitation, experience much less pain, and increased strength and mobility during recovery. Arch supports or orthotics may also be recommended to help support and position the feet, possibly preventing future injury.