Injuring your meniscus may feel like a major blow to your running future, however this isn't necessarily the case. While the meniscus plays a vital role in absorbing the forces that your knee sustains while you run, many people with a meniscus tear end up with minimal symptoms.
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In fact, a 2005 study00059-9/fulltext) published in the Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery found that 20 percent of asymptomatic professional basketball players had meniscus tears when they underwent an MRI; this means they played with the injury and had no pain. Take these steps to increase your odds of returning to running.
Rest and Motion Restoration
Allowing the inflammation that often accompanies a meniscus injury to subside is the first step towards recovery. Before you think about running, make sure the pain, swelling, redness and warmth in your knee have resolved.
Icing three times per day for 10 minutes will help speed this up. In addition, it's important to recover your prior range of motion in your knee so you're able to return to a normal gait pattern when you run. Stretches are an effective way to accomplish this goal and one particular exercise, known as a heel slide, is a good place to start.
Heel Slide How To: Lie on your back with your legs straight and slowly slide your heel towards you until you feel a gentle pull. Hold this for 5 seconds and then straighten the knee until a similar stretch occurs. Again, hold this position for 5 seconds before relaxing. Complete 10 repetitions of this twice daily until you regain normal motion.
The quadriceps are a set of four muscles which play an influential role in supporting the knee and reducing the strain on the meniscus. Building quad strength can help to decrease the pain associated with a meniscus injury and increase the likelihood of running on the knee again. Mini-squats are an effective exercise for targeting this important muscle group.
Mini-Squats How To: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms extended in front of you. Slowly perform a squat by sitting your buttocks backwards and allowing your knees to bend in a pain free range. Your knees should not buckle inwards or travel forward past your toes. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds and then slowly stand up again. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions each day.
Gluteus Medius Strengthening
The gluteus medias is a small hip muscle that assists with maintaining good knee alignment while you run. . By helping to abduct or pull your knee and hip outwards, this muscle equalizes the force placed over the knee joint and prevents you from falling into a "knock-knee position." Side-lying leg raises are one way to strengthen your gluteus medius.
Side-Lyin g Leg Raises How To: Lie on your side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other. Without allowing your hips to rock backward, lift your top leg eight to 10 inches in the air and then slowly back down again. Try to keep your top leg in line with the rest of your body the entire time. After performing three sets of 10 repetitions, flip over and repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Shorten Your Steps
After the inflammation has subsided and you have focused on range of motion and strengthening for 4 to 6 weeks, you may be ready to begin running again. However, it may be to your benefit to shorten your step length when you do this.
Decreasing the length of your steps by 10 percent forces you to strike the middle part of your foot when you land and diminishes the amount of force to which the knee is subjected. Metronome apps can be downloaded to help you appropriately alter your steps.
Even if you feel good after returning to running, it is important to progress slowly to avoid reinjury. Despite everything detailed above, running still places a significant amount of pressure on the knee and can cause more damage.
Make sure to allow one to two days of rest in between runs and to progress mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. Cross training using an elliptical or a bike is also helpful for allowing your knee time to recover from the rigors of running. A physical therapist can help design a specific program to minimize the chances of the pain returning.
Warnings and Precautions
If you're unable to comfortably return to running after following the steps above, make sure to see a doctor about your lingering symptoms. It is important not to push through pain as this can cause further damage to the knee and limit your options going forward.