Torn Meniscus: PT vs. Surgery

Lynn Batalden, DPT

Your doctor has informed you that the pain and swelling in your knee is due to a torn meniscus. Sometimes, a doctor might recommend physical therapy as a conservative treatment alternative to surgery. With this type of injury, choosing which course to take depends on your age, your level of fitness, and how soon you want to be back to your normal level of activity. The conservative physical therapy approach will take more time. Remember that physical therapy will likely be recommended after surgery, as well, to facilitate healing and optimal recovery.

For acute meniscus injuries in people younger than 50 years old, the choice between physical therapy or surgery depends on the size and location of the tear, and whether the tear causes a catch or locking of the joint.  If the tear is in the outer 1/3 of the meniscus then there is still good blood supply to promote better healing.  Surgery has developed over time to remove as little of the meniscus as possible because removal causes uneven weight bearing, which leads to degeneration in the joint.  If there is a reasonable function of the knee, physical therapy is tried and progressed over a six week period. The initial goals are to control swelling, gradually increasing tolerance to weight-bearing exercise and finally to more advanced movements. Pivoting and other quick motions may need to be avoided for up to six months for proper healing.

For those over 50, meniscal injury tends to be degenerative in nature, but it is important to rehabilitate because with this type of injury there are often muscle weaknesses that leave the joint unprotected.

If you have a torn meniscus, call us at 815-758-5508 to schedule a free consultation with a physical therapist to discuss your options for treatment.


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