Strained Meniscus

By Robert Lim, PTA, PES

What is a Strained Meniscus?

A strained meniscus occurs when the meniscus (two pieces of cartilage that act as a cushion between the thigh bone and shin bone) is injured. The meniscus is designed to help keep the knee stable and maintain even balance/weight across the knee. A strained meniscus can vary widely in size and severity.

Anatomy of the meniscus.

Illustration of a meniscus tear and surgery.

What causes a Strained Meniscus?

A strained meniscus can happen when the knee is suddenly twisted while the foot is planted on the ground. A quick pivot or taking a hard tackle on the football field or soccer pitch could make this occur.

How is a Strained Meniscus Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a meniscus injury begins with a full medical history and physical examination. During the examination, the doctor will most likely ask detailed questions about the circumstances of the injury to help better understand the exact stresses that were placed on the knee. After the physical examination, many doctors may prescribe an MRI and X-ray to further diagnose the injury.

What is Recovery like for a patient with a Strained Meniscus?

Treatment of a meniscal tear depends on the individual’s age and athletic level, as well as the location and severity of the tear. If a non-surgical approach is taken, the pain and swelling of a strained meniscus should resolve within a few days if proper care is maintained to the knee. Many patients can resolve their injury by following the RICE protocol:

  • Rest.
  • Ice.
  • Compression.
  • Elevation.

Physical therapy can play an important part in the healing process of a strained meniscus. A short course of physical therapy can help determine whether your knee will recover without the need for surgery to the knee. Your physical therapist can help manage pain and swelling in the knee. They can also assist with you to restore full strength and mobility to your knee. Most common physical therapy treatment methods include:

  • Manual therapy: Your therapist may perform manual therapy techniques also known in common terms as hands-on treatment. These may include soft massage, stretching, or joint mobilization to help reduce swelling and stiffness, and improve the muscle function around the knee joint.
  • Strength exercises: Your physical therapist will design specific strength exercises to build and maintain your strength to help restore full functional movement to the knee. You will be issued a home exercises program that is specific to your diagnosis.   Strengthening the muscles around the knee and throughout the leg helps ease pressure on the healing knee tissue.

During physical therapy, your therapist will apply ice packs to the knee to help control any pain and swelling. They may also instruct you to apply ice at home. If you experience an increase in swelling, your therapist will modify your treatment program or activity level to ensure your safest, most effective recovery of the strained meniscus.

By: Robert Lim, PTA, PES


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