Meniscus tears are the most frequently treated knee injuries. Without surgery, recovery will take about 6 to 8 weeks, though this can vary.
The time of recovery varies depending on:
- the type and severity of the tear
- how long your symptoms persist
- your lifestyle
- your age
The meniscus is a C-shaped band of cartilage that goes around the knee joint and cushions the junction of your thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). There’s an inner (medial) meniscus and an outer (lateral) meniscus.
Meniscus tears can occur at any age. Younger people, especially athletes, are likely to have a sudden meniscus injury. Older people are likely to have meniscus damage related to degeneration from wear-and-tear.
Complex meniscal tears usually require surgery.
Surgery versus conservative treatment for meniscus tears has been a medical topic of controversy for many years.
Today, in general, doctors recommend conservative treatment, not surgery, when meniscus tears result from degeneration. Many recent studies have shown that there’s
If your symptoms persist after 3 months or your symptoms become significant, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the tear.
Conservative treatment is also advised for smaller tears, and stable longitudinal meniscus tears that occur in the outer third of the meniscus, the “red zone.” This is the area of your meniscus that has some blood supply, which aids healing.
Your doctor may also recommend conservative measures as a first step if the tear is caused by injury to the knee.
Conservative treatment for some meniscus tears is
Treatment usually starts with the RICE method:
- Rest. Try to rest your knee for a few days and keep pressure off it.
- Ice. Putting ice on your knee for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can help reduce any swelling.
- Compression. You can also reduce swelling by wrapping your knee with an elastic bandage or wearing a knee brace.
- Elevation. Sit or lie down with your leg and knee elevated above your heart, so that blood flows toward your heart.
If recommended by your doctor, use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to reduce pain and swelling for 8 to 12 weeks.
Your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy.
A physical therapist can provide a daily routine of exercises and stretches to improve your muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, and stability.
The aim is to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee, such as the front thigh muscles, known as the quadriceps. This will reduce the stress on your knee. It will also help stabilize your balance and help prevent another knee injury.
Studies show that exercise routines can significantly improve knee pain and function.
Your doctor may give you a joint injection of glucocorticoids to reduce swelling. This can provide pain relief for 2 to 4 weeks.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a special knee brace or other mechanisms to limit your joint movement and stabilize the knee.
Traditional Ayurvedic treatments are widely used in South Asia to reduce swelling, pain, and motion restrictions in meniscus tears and knee osteoarthritis.
In general, Ayurvedic treatment considers the whole state of the person, not just the specific location of the pain. Some clinical studies on its effectiveness exist, but more research is needed.
A small 2018 randomized controlled study comparing conventional to Ayurvedic treatment in 151 people found that Ayurvedic treatments were beneficial in reducing osteoarthritis knee symptoms at 3, 6, and 12 months.
However, data on this is limited and shouldn’t replace talking with your doctor about your treatment options.
Some meniscus tears require surgery to heal the meniscus and restore the knee’s range of motion. For example:
- A tear on the inner two-thirds of the meniscus that won’t heal on its own because the area lacks blood flow to stimulate the immune system response.
- A tear that gives you a lot of pain or impairs use of your knee may require surgery to remove or repair the torn part of the meniscus.
- Complex tears usually require surgery to trim the damaged part of the meniscus.
Surgery may be a meniscus repair or a trimming of the meniscus tissue, which is called a partial meniscectomy. Note that meniscectomy may cause osteoarthritis in the long term.
Meniscus tear surgery is very common, with about
It’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible:
- if you have sudden pain from a knee injury
- if you have trouble using your knee
- if your pain persists
Untreated meniscus tears can get worse, or pieces of the meniscus can shed into the joint. For an athlete, playing through knee pain can cause greater problems later.
A doctor can do physical and imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to determine what kind of damage you have and discuss possible treatment options with you.
Also consult a doctor if you continue to have pain after a course of conservative treatment.
Meniscus tears are very common. Conservative treatment is recommended for tears associated with the wear and tear of age.
Recovery time is 6 to 8 weeks with conservative treatment. Physical therapy generally leads to a good outcome.
It’s best to see a doctor for diagnosis of knee pain and a treatment plan.