Returning to Sports After a Meniscus Tear

Returning to Sports After a Meniscus Tear

Whether you’re an elite athlete or a recreational sports enthusiast, you know that you carry a risk of injury every time you step on the field, skate across the ice, burst onto the court, or otherwise get in the game. 

Meniscus tears have the dubious distinction of being one of the most common sports injuries and one of the most frequent knee injuries. Left untreated, a meniscal tear can cause joint-limiting instability and lead to long-term knee problems like osteoarthritis.  

When you see our team at Sports Medicine Oregon for a torn meniscus, you’re in good hands — after assessing the severity of your injury, we work diligently to facilitate optimal healing, restore full functionality, and help you achieve a complete recovery.  

Learn when minimally invasive meniscus repair is warranted, including when it may be key to your eventual return to sports:

Your amazing menisci 

Three bones — your thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella) — meet to form your knee joint. The two crescent-shaped pads of cartilage that act as cushioning “shock absorbers'' between your thighbone and your shinbone are called menisci

The menisci in your knee help facilitate joint stability and smooth, fluid movement. They also help distribute weight across the joint, from one bone to the other, and transmit directional load during high-impact activities.

In short, a knee joint can’t be fully functional without two healthy menisci.  

Meniscal tear basics

Your menisci may be vital, but they’re also vulnerable to injury — a meniscus can tear during any movement that puts excessive pressure on the joint or pushes it past its normal rotational range of motion.

Most sports-related meniscus injuries take place when an athlete twists or turns their upper leg while their foot is firmly in one place and their knee is bent. Playing sports that require a lot of squatting, twisting, or positional changes increases your risk of experiencing a meniscal tear. 

As the injury occurs, it causes a pronounced “pop” sensation in your knee. Afterward, your joint may be swollen, stiff, weak, and painful; your knee may also feel as though it’s locking, catching, or about to give way whenever you bend it.  

Caring for a meniscus injury

Given that it’s not unusual for the pain of a meniscus tear to come and go — it typically feels worse when the joint is under pressure — many athletes are tempted to push through the pain and continue playing or training. 

This is a big mistake, however, as even minor meniscal tears require attention and care to heal properly. Moderate to severe tears, on the other hand, typically require surgical repair and attentive post-surgical physical therapy. 

Minor to moderate meniscal tears

If diagnostic imaging shows that your tear is within the outer third of the meniscus, it may be able to heal on its own with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method of care, followed by joint-stabilizing physical therapy exercises.

A conservative approach is possible with this type of tear because the outer third of a meniscus has a rich blood supply that can help regenerate new, healthy cartilage tissue.

Sometimes, however, the RICE approach and physical therapy can’t restore full strength, stability, and functionality to the meniscus. In such cases, minimally invasive meniscus repair surgery is often the next step.  

Severe meniscal tears

If the tear affects the inner two-thirds of your meniscus, an area of cartilage that lacks blood flow, it can’t be surgically repaired. Instead, it may need to be trimmed down to keep it from tearing further, or removed completely and replaced with a meniscus transplant from a donor.   

Getting back in the game

Your ability to return to sports following a meniscus tear depends on several factors, including the severity of your injury and the quality of your treatment plan. At Sports Medicine Oregon, we always do our best to help you get back in the game as safely and quickly as possible. 

Following the successful surgical repair of a torn meniscus, it typically takes four to eight weeks to recover fully. It can take several more months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, however, to ensure your knee has the strength and stability it needs to return to sports with minimal risk of reinjury.  

In some cases, returning to sports following a meniscus injury may mean returning to a modified level of play to protect a knee that’s permanently lost some of its inherent strength and stability. It may also mean switching to a less intense sport or lower impact activity. 

If you have a painful knee injury, our  team is ready to help. Call your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon location in Tigard or Wilsonville today, or use the easy online booking tool to schedule a visit with one of our experienced orthopedists and sports injury experts any time.  

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