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The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer. With more people engaging in sports and working in their yards, there is an increased risk of knee injuries - the most common being a torn meniscus.  Sports medicine physician, Dr. Ryan Li, sat down to discuss this common knee injury and what you can expect.

What is the meniscus?

The meniscus is a tough rubbery "cushion" that helps stabilize the knee joint between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (leg bone). Think of it as a shock absorber for your knee.

What can cause the meniscus to tear?

Tears generally happen in one of two ways. The first is with a sudden twisting, cutting, or pivoting movement that can cause the meniscus to rip. You may sometimes feel a "pop" in the knee followed by a lot of swelling. Meniscus tears can also occur more gradually and are sometimes associated with arthritis and aging. As bodies age, the meniscus becomes more brittle and easier to tear, almost like a sponge that has dried out. A torn meniscus can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. You might also feel a block to knee motion and have trouble fully straightening your knee.

What are my options?

Sometimes, a conservative treatment - such as rest, ice, medication, and physical therapy - is enough to relieve the pain and give it time to heal on its own. In other cases, a torn meniscus requires surgery to repair or trim so that the torn edges no longer rub each other.

Now, let's talk recovery with Wake Orthopaedics PT, Dan Menday.

Physical therapy after a meniscus tear can be vital to your recovery.  Immediate focus should be on decreasing swelling and pain in the knee following surgery.  It is also important to regain function and strength in your quad early on in order to stabilize and control the knee.  Other focuses will be on strengthening the hamstrings and your hip muscles.  Your physical therapist will work with you to personalize a program for your specific goals.

Physical therapy following a meniscectomy (trimming of the meniscus) usually lasts about 6 weeks.  This is typically a straight forward recovery as there are usually little to no restrictions following this surgery.

If the meniscus is surgically repaired instead of trimmed, physical therapy is usually at least a 3-month process.  This is because you will typically have a period of about 6 weeks immediately after surgery where the surgeon will limit weight-bearing and the amount you can bend your knee to allow the repaired meniscus to heal.

It is possible to recover from some meniscus tears without surgery.  This depends on the size and location of the tear, and if it impacts your daily life or not.  Physical therapy can also be helpful in this case to regain your function in the knee.

Most patients recover well after meniscus surgeries.  You can expect to return to doing all of your everyday activities after appropriate rehabilitation.  The majority of athletes will be able to return to playing sports at the level they were prior to surgery.  Your physical therapist will work with you to get you back to full strength.

Learn more about our expert team at the Wake Orthopaedics Sports Medicine Center and how they can get you back up and running.