A torn meniscus is one of the most common types of knee injuries. Any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting your full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus. Each of your knees has two menisci. These structures are c-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone. A torn meniscus may cause pain, swelling and stiffness.
Some movements that can be painful with meniscal tears include walking, steps, squatting, and lunging. With massive tears, someone might feel a block to knee motion and experience difficulty extending their knee fully. Fortunately, most types of meniscus tears don’t result in a locked knee and can be effectively rehabilitated. In fact research studies have shown that “clean-up” type of procedures for smaller meniscal tears are ineffective. In 2013, the New England Journal even published a controlled study showed that surgery for meniscus tears in these patients was no better than a fake surgery.
The good news is that a well designed rehabilitation program can resolve knee pain that is associated with meniscal tears. That’s because other factors such as stiffness, weakness, trigger points, and poor movement at the knee and other regions of the body can contribute to knee pain.
In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from any activity that is aggravating the knee. This allows for an environment for the inflammation to settle down and the knee to heal. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.
In many cases, meniscal injuries of the knee are coupled with poor mobility of the hips and ankles. This can be combined with weakness of the quad and hamstrings. In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and hip muscles, the way an active person moves can be affected which may lead to faulty knee mechanics (e.g. caving in during squatting activity). However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment.
When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to move dynamically under load.
When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, meniscal tears are injuries that can resolve relatively quickly. We have helped countless patients recovery from meniscus injuries without unnecessary injections or procedures. However, ignoring symptoms and continuing with repetitive activity and poor mechanics can result in a more serious problem. If you feel like you may have a meniscus injury, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to provide a through assessment and give you a diagnosis for your condition. We can perform a series of clinical tests to determine the severity of your injury and give you guidance with what steps you can take moving forward. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your knee is affecting you and discuss your treatment options. Call us at 864-558-7346 and ask how we can help.