What Is The Torn Meniscus Recovery Time For Athletes?

According to an internal 21 season NBA study, for every 10,000 practices and games for each athlete, there were 1-2 meniscus injuries with an average return to a playing of 6 weeks.

Only 20% of these athletes with injuries never returned. Thankfully, all those who were able to return to the same playing levels they had before the injury. (1)

Like every athlete, I have always had this fear of ruining my life because of an injury. Reading the above survey gave me a huge sense of relief. I have been hearing my knees pop every time I squat and fear I have a meniscus tear.

I need some motivation before I go to the orthopedic to assure me that I will be back on my feet in no time. In this article, I will answer the question “what is the torn meniscus recovery time for athletes”?

Surgical Options For Meniscus Tear

Surgical Options For Meniscus Tear

The amount of time it takes for an athlete to return to full physical activity will depend much on the kind of procedure he has undergone. The more serious the procedure, the longer it will take. Three main types of surgical procedures are used to treat a meniscus tear: (2)

  • Partial meniscectomy - This procedure is often used for flap tears, radial tears in the inner area. During arthroscopic surgery, the damaged part of the meniscus is removed.
  • Meniscal repair - this is a common procedure for younger patients with tears located in the peripheral 2/3 of the meniscus. 
  • Meniscal allograft transplantation - this is performed if you have had prior partial meniscectomy and experience femur-tibial pain. During the surgery, your old meniscus is removed and a new meniscus is inserted using cartilage from other parts of your body.(3)

So how long does it take to recover from these three types of surgical procedures? I was really hoping the answer would be at most a month but what I discovered made me realize the seriousness of the injury no matter how common it may be.

Meniscus Repair Rehabilitation And Recovery

Meniscus Repair Rehabilitation And Recovery

The partial meniscectomy and the meniscal repair surgery have similar recovery phases with a little extension for the meniscal repair. (4,5)

Phase I – From Surgery To 4 Weeks

Goals:

  • Control swelling
  • ​Achieve full knee extension
  • ​Restore leg control

Suggested exercises:

  • Upper body circuit training
  • ​Supine wall slides
  • ​Heel slides
  • ​Straight leg raises
  • ​Quadriceps sets

During the initial stage of recovery, a knee brace is required for all weight-bearing activities. Also, flexing the knee more than 90 degrees is discouraged.

Phase II - 4 Weeks After 

Goals:

  • ​Achieve a normal gait
  • ​Painless functional movements such as squats and partial lunge
  • ​Controlled single leg stand

Suggested exercises:

  • ​Hip and core strengthening
  • ​Stationary bike
  • ​Swimming
  • ​Other low impact exercises

​It is critical during this stage that no forced flexion is done and high impact activities or workouts are completely avoided. Instead, focus on gaining full control of the knees.

Phase III – 3 months after surgery

Goals:

  • ​Gain total control without pain for all movements

Suggested exercises:

  • ​Hip and core strengthening
  • ​Low-velocity movement control exercises progressing to high-velocity movement control exercises
  • ​Strength and control drills related to sports movements

​If any soreness is experienced during this phase, it should resolve within a day. Although the knee is recovered, it is best to still avoid end range knee flexion.

Meniscal Allograft Transplantation Recovery

Meniscal Allograft Transplantation Recovery

​It may take up to six months before return to athletic activity after meniscal allograft transplant. The phases of recovery are also divided into three. (6,7)

Phase I - Up To 8 Weeks After Surgery

Goals:

  • ​Normalize gait after 4 weeks
  • ​Attain partial weight bearing

Suggested exercises:

  • ​Quadriceps sets
  • ​Heel slides
  • ​Heel raises
  • ​Terminal knee extensions
  • ​Straight leg raises

​During the phase, I of recovery, no weight-bearing with flexion greater than 90 degrees should be conducted. The knee brace should be worn for at least 6 weeks after the operation and no tibial rotation should be done for the first 8 weeks.

Phase II - From 8-12 Weeks

Goals:

  • ​Achieve full range of motion

Suggested exercises:

  • ​Lunges up to 90-degree angle
  • ​Leg press up to the 90-degree angle
  • ​Stationary bicycle
  • ​Hamstring strengthening

Phase III - From 3 To 6 Months

Goals:

  • ​Full weight bearing
  • ​Normal gait pattern
  • ​A painless range of movement

Suggested exercises:

  • ​Begin jogging or running
  • ​Quad and hamstring

​After six months, it is important that a maintenance program for strength and endurance is maintained.

Tips To Speed Up Recovery After Meniscus Surgery

  • Get into better shape before surgery. This includes losing weight, eating healthy and getting rid of unhealthy habits like smoking. Having high sugar levels before surgery can increase the risk of infection and be overweight may lead to arthritis progression after surgery. (8)
  • Move about as soon as possible and as much as you can tolerate after surgery. Movement minimizes muscle entropy and minimizes the risk of blood clots.
  • Don't compare your recovery with other people. Each of us has unique bodies and respond differently after surgery.

Torn Meniscus Recovery Without Surgery

Torn Meniscus Recovery Without Surgery

After being quite disappointed with the long period that was required to recover from meniscus surgery completely, I finally found some good news. It is possible for the meniscus tear to heal without surgery.

This will depend on two main factors: (9

  • The location of the injury
  • The cause of the injury

If the tear happened because of bumping the knee or lifting heavy objects, it is quite possible that the tear will recover on its own without surgery. However, if the injury is a result of high impact sports, it may be more severe and require surgery.

The location is another factor to consider. If the tear is in the inner part of your meniscus, it is harder to heal. Injuries that are in parts of the cartilage with better blood supply may be more likely to heal even without surgery. (10) To determine where your injury is, read the recent article I wrote about torn meniscus tests.

The degree of pain and degree of loss of function are other determining factors that will affect whether or not surgery is required. 

Conclusion

A torn meniscus may be considered one of the most common injuries in athletes; it does take a few months before you can get back to running. For both meniscectomy and the meniscal repair surgery, it may take up to three months before full use of the knee is achieved. If a meniscal transplant is performed, the recovery time may double to up to six months.

I may not be a professional athlete but I love my running so much I dread the thought of not being able to run for months at a time. On the other hand, it's very comforting to know that so many athletes especially professional ones suffer from meniscal tears at one time in their career. Whatever my fate becomes, I know now how valuable my knees are.

Amber Irwin
 

Hi everyone. I'm Amber a running and sports writer. I love to share my passion with fellow outdoor lovers and hope to establish a community here. I believe running is an amazing sport for everyone and hope to inspire others with my words. Welcome to my fantastic blog!

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