Knee Injury and Meniscus Tear
What's the Treatment for a Meniscus Tear?
Treatment for meniscal tears depends on the size and location of the tear. Other factors which influence treatment include age, activity level and related injuries. The outer portion of the meniscus, often referred to as the “red zone,” has a good blood supply and can sometimes heal on its own if the tear is small. In contrast, the inner two thirds of the meniscus, known as the “white zone,” does not have a good blood supply. Tears in this region will not heal on their own as this area lacks blood vessels to bring in healing nutrients.
Happily, not all meniscal tears require surgery. If your knee is not locking up, is stable, and symptoms resolve, nonsurgical treatment may suffice. To speed the recovery, you can:
- Rest the knee. Try to avoid putting weight on your knee as much as possible. You may need to use crutches for a time.
- Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain and swelling is gone.
- Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage or a neoprene type sleeve on your knee to control swelling.
- Elevate your knee with a pillow under your heel when you're sitting or lying down.
- Take anti-inflammatory medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be only used occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
- Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.
- Avoid impact activities such as running and jumping.
However, these conservative treatments aren't always enough. If a tear is large, unstable, or causing locking symptoms surgery may be required to either repair or remove unstable edges. The procedure is usually pretty simple, and you can often go home the same day. You may need a brace afterward for protection if a repair is performed.
According to 85-90% of people who get the surgery for a meniscus tear, the short-term results are excellent or good. But in the long-term, people who have a large meniscal injury which is unrepairable may be at a higher risk of developing knee arthritis.
When Will My Knee Feel Better?
Recovery time for your knee depends on how severe your meniscus tear is. Full recovery from surgery may take about a month, depending on the type of procedure performed. But keep in mind that people also heal at different rates.
If your doctor agrees, you could take up a new activity that won't aggravate your knee pain while you recover. For instance, runners could try swimming.
Whatever you do, don't rush things. Don't try to return to your old level of physical activity until:
- You feel no pain when you bend or straighten your knee.
- You feel no pain in your knee when you walk, jog, sprint, or jump.
- Your knee is no longer swollen.
- Your knee feels as strong as your uninjured knee.
If you start using your knee before it's healed, you could cause further injury.