Recovery from Meniscus Surgery
The length of recovery after a meniscus injury depends upon the severity of your injury, the type of treatment, your age and fitness level, your overall health, and how successfully you complete physical therapy.
If your meniscus tear occurs in the outer edges of the meniscus – the red zone – where there is a healthy blood supply, there is an increased chance of healing. If the knee is stable, recovery can take up to 8 weeks including rest, ice, compression, elevation, anti-inflammatory pain meds, observation and exercise. Allowing the meniscus to heal naturally still requires avoiding excessive stress on the knee, which can delay healing. This is accomplished by avoiding high impact activities, activities with higher degrees of flexion (excessive bending of the knee), and exercises to prevent stiffness and restore range of motion.
When you undergo arthroscopic repair of a meniscus tear in a zone that can heal, and the meniscus is otherwise in good condition, the torn pieces are sutured together. Some types of tears (root tears and some radial tears) require drilling a tunnel to re-attach the meniscus to the tibia (shin bone). These types of tears are of significant importance as having a root tear is similar to having no meniscus. Swelling after surgery is managed with icing and elevation.
Rehabilitation is essential to restore range of motion, mobility, and strength. Frequently, exercise programs can be completed in the comfort of your own home. Recovery with rehabilitation and return to normal activity can take up to 3 months; however, some motivated elite athletes return to play within a few weeks after surgery.
After surgery, the patient will be on crutches and wearing a brace for four weeks. The postoperative rehabilitation protocol includes multiple phases that extend over the course of 4-6 months beginning immediately after surgery. The rehab largely depends on the type of tear and involves weight bearing exercises (not allowed in radial or root tears), range of motion exercises, and therapeutic exercises to improve muscle strength, particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings. All of these exercises are performed as tolerated. Gradual return to sports begins around 4-6 months combined with continuing maintenance of strength and endurance exercises.
Debridement (Partial meniscectomy)
Degenerative tears can cause pain when they catch in the joint, or when you squat, twist, turn, or pivot. In these types of tears, if they are located closer to the middle of the knee, there may not be enough meniscus tissue to repair. In these circumstances, the surgeon might choose to trim the edges of the meniscus. The reason most meniscal tears are trimmed and taken out is because the meniscus itself does not have an abundant blood supply, especially on the inner rim of the meniscus. Preserving as much meniscus as possible is essential to slow down the progression of any arthritis. After an arthroscopic debridement, you will rely on crutches for the first few days after surgery, and have a short course of physical therapy. Patients usually return to normal daily activities within a week. However, it can take up to a month to return to pre-injury activities and sports.
Meniscus tears are common and with the proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation, most patients can return to pre-injury activities.