For such a small part of the body, the c-shaped piece of cartilage between the tibia and femur bones play a large role. This piece of cartilage, known as the meniscus, serves as both a stabilizer and shock absorber for the knee. And when you injure your meniscus, you know. The question is, what happens when a meniscus injury requires surgery, and how long does it take to recover?
Common Causes of Meniscus Injuries
Before we get into care, let’s talk about cause. A sudden stop and turn, an awkward twist or landing—all of these can cause a meniscal tear. Meniscus injuries crop up most often during contact sports, such as football, soccer, and hockey.
However, meniscus tears can also result from heavy lifting, pivots and turns (think: basketball, volleyball, and the like), as well as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and other conditions that come with age. Causes vary. Here’s what recovery might look like.
What to Expect After Meniscus Surgery
After a meniscus injury, physicians use MRI to determine the severity of injury and whether or not surgery is required. Typically, anything Grade III and above will require surgery (though not always). It all depends on the extent to which the injury is likely to heal on its own. For those injuries that do require surgery, here’s what to expect afterward:
- Rest, healing, and recovery time: Immediately after the injury, patients will be put into RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) protocol alongside pain and inflammation medication as needed. Though the surgery to repair a meniscus tear alone is not terribly long, the recovery time can last anywhere from three weeks to six months for a full return to activity.
As with any injury, recovery time for meniscus surgery will depend on the severity of the surgery (full removal or repair, for example), location of the injury, as well as any other damage that was done to the knee. Rehabilitation time will also vary accordingly.
- Crutches, a brace, and a slow return to weight-bearing: After surgery, most patients will be on crutches, wear a brace, or some combination of both for at least a couple of weeks. This helps eliminate impact on the knee to allow the repaired tissue to begin healing and reduce the risk of re-injury.
- The physical therapy program: After an initial recovery period, most patients will begin a physical therapy program to start a gradual and progressive return to regular activity. This includes a gradual return to weight-bearing activities. The integrity and regularity of this program will directly impact the patient’s recovery time, and may include the following focus areas:
Shortening Recovery Times with Precision Unweighting
Once a patient is cleared to return to weight-bearing activities, their physical therapist will tailor the duration and intensity of their protocols depending on the severity of the meniscus injury.
Aside from traditional protocols, many physical therapists are now adding unweighting activities, such as pool therapy or tools like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™, to re-introduce walking and running motions while limiting injury risk. How? By adding weight-bearing in smaller, tolerable increments and controlling those increments precisely.
To learn more, read the medial meniscus tear case study by AlterG.