Meniscal tears are commonly occurring knee injuries. Menisci are the wedge-shaped cartilage pieces that act as shock absorbers in your knee. Treatment depends on the type of meniscus tear you have and how severe it is. Many meniscal tears cannot heal because they don't get enough of a blood supply but tears that occur in the outside one-third of your meniscus do have a rich blood supply. Strengthening muscles can help prevent secondary effects of a torn meniscus such as knee buckling and pain.
Your doctor and physical therapist will design your treatment plan depending on whether or not you need surgery, the severity of your lateral meniscus tear and factors such as your age, fitness level and weight.
General Strengthening Exercises
Gentle exercises such as aquatic exercises or swimming and walking can help strengthen leg muscles without causing too much injury. Avoid twisting the knee or engaging in high-impact aerobics when you have a knee injury. Muscle strengthening exercises include riding a stationary bike, straightening and raising the leg, extending the leg while sitting and pool exercises.
Your quadriceps muscle is very involved in your knee flexibility and stability. Strengthening exercises for your quads will help support healing of your lateral meniscus tear. Sit on the floor with your injured leg straight out in front of you, tighten your thigh muscles and hold them for about six seconds. Release and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise eight to 12 times several times a day. Don't overly straighten the knee; you may place a rolled towel under your knee for added support.
Leg raises strengthen the muscles above your knee, at the back of your thigh and those of your buttocks and hips and can stabilize your knee after a meniscal tear. Try front and back leg raises.
Lie on your back with your good knee bent and your injured leg straight. Tighten your thigh muscles by attempting to press your injured knee to the floor and hold muscles tight as you lift your heel about a foot off the floor. Hold for five seconds and lower slowly. Repeat eight to 12 times.
Lie on your stomach with both legs straight. Attempt to lift your injured leg up behind you so that your toes are about 6 inches away from the floor. Hold for five seconds and lower your leg slowly. Repeat eight to 12 times.
Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Place a rolled-up towel under your leg just above the kneecap if this is uncomfortable. Bend your knee and bring the heel of your injured leg towards your buttocks. You may also add a 1- to 5-pound weight to your ankle to reduce the distance you must lift your leg to work out your hamstrings.
Heel Raises and Heel Digs
To strengthen calf muscles, stand with your feet a few inches apart and rest your hands on a counter, table or back of a chair. Raise your heels off the floor while keeping your knees straight. Hold for six seconds and slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat eight to 12 times several times a day.
Heel digs work your hamstring muscles and those of your hips. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Bend your ankles so that your heels are digging into the floor. Push on your heels and squeeze your buttocks together. Lift your hips off the floor until they are level with your shoulders and knees. Hold for six seconds and slowly lower your body. Rest for 10 seconds and repeat eight to 12 times. Quit this exercise if it causes you pain.
A final muscle strengthening exercise for a lateral meniscus tear involves knee bends. Only attempt this exercise if you are experiencing little pain from your knee injury. Stand with your feet apart so that they line up with your shoulders. Rest your hands on a countertop, table or back of a chair. Slowly bend your knees so that you are squatting with your feet flat. Keep your knees in line with your toes. Lower yourself about 6 inches and rise slowly back to standing. Repeat eight to 12 times.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Meniscal Tears
- University of Washington Medicine: Torn Meniscus-Torn Knee Cartilage not Limited to Athletes or Sports
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Knee Problems
- Cigna Healthwise: Meniscus Tear: Rehabilitation Exercises