How Physical Therapy Can Help Your Meniscus Tear

Improve Your Mobility, Strength, and Function

Man with Meniscus Tear

Stiffness, swelling, pain, catching, locking, clicking, buckling – maybe you’ve experienced a few of these symptoms in your knee. If you have a Meniscus tear, what can you do to help? Maybe you’ve heard that meniscus surgery is a possible option for you. Or maybe you’ve considered physical therapy. How do you know which is right for you?

Here we’ll discuss the benefits of Physical Therapy for meniscus tears and offer you some exercises you can get started on today…

First Thing’s First: What is a Meniscus?

Well, you have two of them in each knee – between your thigh bone and your shin bone. Basically, they act like shock absorbers and help stabilize your knee 1.

How Serious Is A Meniscus Tear?

Meniscus tears can be caused by a single injury, or they can happen over time in people who are active as well as in older people. Some of the time, meniscus tears can be a part of early arthritis2,3,4,5.

When we look at the MRIs of older people with knee problems, we find that 91% have a meniscus tear. This may come as a shock to you. What’s even more shocking, though, is what we find when we look at the MRIs of older people without knee problems – 76% have a meniscus tear.

What does this tell you? It tells me that that a meniscus tear itself doesn’t always cause pain 6. It also tells me that, if other possible impairments – like strength and mobility – are addressed, then maybe your function can improve and maybe you won’t have as much pain.

Will You Need Surgery?

The arthroscopic partial meniscectomy is the most common orthopedic surgery performed in the US 7. The aim of this surgery is to help relieve symptoms of a meniscus tear by removing any torn fragments and trimming the meniscus back to where it is stable8,9.

Many people who have this surgery do get better 10,11.

However, studies show that improvements in pain and function in people after surgery aren’t any different than improvements in people who didn’t have surgery and had Physical Therapy instead 12.

So, in my book, why not give Physical Therapy a good effort? You will likely see improvements and if, in a few months, you don’t see improvements, you still have other options.

How Can Exercise Help a Meniscus Tear?

Exercises can help you improve from a meniscus tear by increasing:
– Mobility
– Strength
– Function

One method I recommend to help improve mobility is to ride a stationary bike. This is a great way to get the knee moving while minimizing pressure on your knee joint. There’s a saying amongst Physical Therapists that “Motion is Lotion” and this is certainly true here.

Here is a Stationary Bike that I highly recommend. It is super affordable and works great. In fact, I got one for my in-laws a couple of years ago and they love it! It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but has everything you need to get your knee moving*.

Another way to gain mobility in your knee is to mobilize it:

1. Knee Flexion Mobilization


Studies show that people with meniscus tears have weak quadriceps muscles13 – which are important to help stabilize the knee and absorb much of the load. Here’s a great exercise to help strengthen the quads without putting much stress through the joint:

2. Resisted Knee Extensions in Standing


Although quad strength is of primary importance, we also want to make sure the entire leg is strong for maximal support. Here’s a great exercise:

3. Single Leg Bridges


Question: What would improving the mobility and strength of your knee allow you to do differently?

*This is an affiliate product – which means that, if purchased, I earn a small commission.  The cool thing is, it doesn’t change the price for you – so it’s a win-win!  Thanks for your support!

  1. Brindle T, Nyland J, Johnson DL. The Meniscus: Review of Basic Principles With Application to Surgery and Rehabilitation. J Athl Train. 2001;36:160–169  ↩
  2. Aichroth P (1996) Degenerative meniscal tears. Knee 3:70– 72  ↩
  3. Englund M, Roos EM, Roos HP, Lohmander LS (2001) Patient-relevant outcomes fourteen years after menisectomy: influence of type of meniscal tear and size of resection. Rheumatology 40:631–639  ↩
  4. Rangger C, Kathrein A, Klestil T, Gloetzer W (1997) Partial meniscectomy and osteoarthritis. Implications for treatment of athletes. Sports Med 23(1):61–68  ↩
  5. Renstro ¨m PAF (1995) Knee pain in tennis players. Clin Sports Med 14(1):163–175  ↩
  6. Gobbi A, Nunag P, Malinowski K. Treatment of full thickness chondral lesions of the knee with microfracture in a group of athletes. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2005;13:213–221. s00167–004–0499–3  ↩
  7. Cullen KA, Hall MJ, Golosinskiy A. Ambulatory surgery in the United States, 2006. Natl Health Stat Rep 2009;11:1–25  ↩
  8. Englund M, Guermazi A, Gale D, et al. Incidental meniscal findings on knee MRI in middle-aged and elderly persons. N Engl J Med 2008;359:1108–15.  ↩
  9. Metcalf MH, Barrett GR. Prospective evaluation of 1485 meniscal tear patterns in patients with stable knees. Am J Sports Med 2004;32:675–80.  ↩
  10. Burks RT, Metcalf MH, Metcalf RW (1997) Fifteen-year follow-up of arthroscopic partial meniscectomy. J Arthroscopic Rel Surg 13:673–679  ↩
  11. Roos EM, Roos HP, Ryd L, Lohmander LS (2000) Substantial disability 3 months after arthroscopic partial meniscectomy: a prospective study of patient relevant outcomes. J Arthrosc Rel Surg 16(6):619–626  ↩
  12. Katz JN, et al. Surgery versus Physical Therapy for a Meniscal Tear and Osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med . 2013 May 2; 368(18): 1675–1684. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1301408  ↩
  13. Chmielewski TL, Stackhouse S, Axe MJ, Snyder-Mackler L. A prospective analysis of incidence and severity of quadriceps inhibition in a consecutive sample of 100 patients with complete acute anterior cruciate ligament rupture. J Orthop Res. 2004;22:925–930. http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/j.orthres.2004.01.007  ↩
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