Physical therapy exercises can reduce pain, improve mobility and increase your strength after meniscus tears. In many cases, surgery for meniscus tears can be avoided. In this article, we will discuss 5 physical therapy exercises for meniscus tears that are likely to help you restore the pain-free movement of your knee.
What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is an extra layer of cartilage the provides cushion and support to the knee joint. There is an inner and outer meniscus on the surface of the cartilage in the knee.
The cartilage and meniscus function as a shock absorber for the knee by distributing pressure in the knee joint. Unfortunately, meniscus tears are one of the most common injuries of the knee.
- The image on the right shows the meniscus on each side of the knee joint.
- The meniscus on the inner portion of the knee is called the medial meniscus.
- The meniscus on the outer portion of the knee is called the lateral meniscus.
What are common symptoms of a torn meniscus?
- Popping, clicking, and locking of the knee
- Tenderness to the joint line of the knee
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the knee
- Pain with twisting or bearing weight on the knee
- Limitations with bending or straightening the knee
What causes a meniscus tear?
Meniscus tears can occur while twisting aggressively on a bent knee. Soccer players are at risk of knee injuries due to the unpredictable nature of their sport.
Here are a few potential causes of meniscus tears:
- Traumatic accidents
- Bending and twisting the knee awkwardly
- Sports-related injuries
- Poor training techniques
- Normal age-related changes
Types of Meniscus Tears
How can a physical therapist help you after a meniscus tear?
An examination by a physical therapist is another way to identify a suspected meniscus tear. In most states in the United States, you can schedule a visit directly with a physical therapist without a referral from your primary care doctor.
A visit with a physical therapist is a great option because you can start physical therapy exercises for the meniscus tear right away.
What will a physical therapist do for you?
An assessment by a physical therapist can identify the types of exercises likely to help you reduce pain, improve mobility and increase your strength in the knee.
A physical therapist is highly trained to analyze the factors contributing to your pain. The results from the assessment will guide your treatment.
Here are several treatment options a physical therapist can provide for you:
- Joint mobilizations – Moving the joint with manual techniques to reduce pain and improve mobility
- Range of motion exercises – Exercises to improve the mobility of the knee using various loads, repetitions, sets, and frequency
- Strength training – Increasing the strength of muscles that support the knee in a progressive strength training program
- Motor Control and Coordination – Teaching you how to control movements of your body to avoid excessive strain on the knee
- Stretching – Techniques to improve the mobility of the muscles around the knee
- Taping – Using tape to influence a positive change in the nerves and muscles that control the knee
What physical therapy exercises can help a meniscus tear?
The exercises that help one person may not help another person. For example, one person may need very simple exercises.
Another person may find those exercises too easy and need more challenging versions of those movements.
For those reasons, It will be more beneficial for me to discuss different categories of exercises. I hope these descriptions will help you understand the benefits of physical therapy exercises for meniscus tears.
Here are my top 3 physical therapy exercises for meniscus tears:
#1: Range of motion exercises
The goal of these exercises is to improve the ability of the knee to bend and straighten. Bending of the knee is known as flexion. Straightening of the knee is known as extension.
Meniscus tears can limit flexion and extension of the knee due to pain or blockage of movement in the joint.
For example, a portion of the torn meniscus can obstruct the normal mechanics of the knee joint.
Range of motion exercises can restore the normal mechanics of the knee joint and desensitize the knee to pain.
Full flexion and extension are important for optimal knee function and restoring mobility of the knee is often the top priority whether or not you have surgery for a meniscus tear.
An example of a knee range of motion exercise:
A popular physical therapy exercise is called LAQ (long arc quads). The exercise is performed by straightening the knee. These exercises can be performed in different positions with different amounts of resistance.
Sit at the edge of a chair, table or bed. Let the knee hang and relax to start.
Straighten the knee by contracting the quadriceps muscle. The quads are the muscles in the front of your thigh.
Try to fully straighten the knee within your tolerance. As the exercise becomes easier, a weight can be placed around the ankle.
#2: Strength training exercises
Strong muscles will help to support the knee joint and improve the ability of the knee to heal without surgery. A physical therapist can identify the muscles that are weak and give you specific exercises to improve those weak muscles.
A strength training program supervised by a physical therapist can provide you with the proper amount of repetitions, sets, weight and progressions to recover.
At first, the exercises may start off easy. Then, the difficulty of the exercises will be progressed depending on your response to the exercises.
An example of a strength training exercise:
Side lying leg raises are a great way to strengthen the muscles in the hip without adding compression to the knee joint. Strong hip muscles help to support the knee joint.
A progression of this exercise would be adding a resistance band around the ankles. The exercise becomes more challenging with the use of the Evercore miniband around the ankles.
Lie directly on your side. The feet should start together with or without a miniband around the ankles.
Raise one leg back and up. Try not to rock the hips backward and let the leg move forward as it lifts into the air. Add the Evercore miniband around the ankles when the exercise becomes too easy without the band.
Over time, the muscles around the knee will become stronger which helps to restore the pain-free function of your knee.
#3: Movement training exercises
A lack of control in your knee can lead to excessive strain on the knee joint. These types of exercises improve your control of movement.
Example of a movement training exercise:
The lunge is a good exercise to practice control of your knee position. The goal of this exercise is to practice keeping the knee in alignment with the hip and foot.
Place the Evercore power band around the outside knee. The band will pull the knee inward.
Move your knee outward to position the knee, hip, and ankle in alignment. Then, perform lunges in this position.
The Evercore power band pulls the knee inward which forces you to keep the knee in alignment. This exercise helps to improve the voluntary control of your knee position which helps to reduce strain on the knee joint.
These three categories of exercises are important during the recovery process for meniscus tears. In many cases, surgery can be avoided by following an exercise program designed by a physical therapist.
An assessment by a physical therapist is essential to identify your areas of weakness and which exercises will help you the most. In fact, the assessment is an on-going process with your physical therapist because the exercises need to be progressed based on your response to the program.
Many people write-off an exercise program as unsuccessful because it has not been properly progressed. With time and proper implementation of an exercise program, you can restore mobility and strength to your knee after a meniscus tear.
What are your next steps?
If you physical therapy exercises for a meniscus tear, then contact a physical therapist.
If you need additional guidance, Click here.