Knee Pain: Injury to the Menisci
A frequent cause of lower extremity pain is an injury to the menisci. For the sake of simplicity, menisci are cartilage; rubbery pads in the knee joint separating the femur and tibia bones. The inside pad is called the medial, and the outside is the lateral menisci. The job of the menisci is to provide shock absorption. They do a fantastic job, but the elasticity allowing menisci too efficiently soak up energy renders the cartilage vulnerable to damage.
In general, those who suffer from menisci injury have two choices. Well, three actually; you could choose to do nothing; however, for the sake of this narrative, I want to talk about the opportunities I entertained when faced with a menisci tear. For me, choosing to do nothing was not an option; it hurt too damn much. That left a choice between either nonsurgical, conservative treatment or surgical. Let me stress; these were choices based on my unique diagnosis. The upside to a nonsurgical approach is enormous, but when I considered what it meant to pursue a conservative course of treatment. I had to decide if I were willing to change my lifestyle to ensure a positive outcome. Those who seek this course must consider limiting oneself from performing activities responsible for the pain in the first place. It makes sense, right? If it hurts when you perform this or that activity; stop doing it!
Since my surgery, recent data suggests, “patients with a meniscus tear, exercise therapy outperforms surgery in key muscle strength measure.” (PT in Motion News, 2014, October) Had I known this, would I’ve still have had surgery? Probably. I wanted to get back to living the outdoor life I love. I decided surgery was my best option. It turns out surgeons are quite skilled at removing parts of the tear that cause pain. In some cases (not mine) the menisci can even be repaired. Keep in mind, there are many, many types of menisci tear injuries, and we’re not going to go into those here. I want to focus on what comes after a menisci remedy, surgical or nonsurgical; what is the fastest and safest way to get back to life?
Recovery from an uncomplicated meniscectomy is four to six weeks. At least, that’s what my surgeon advised, and his counsel jives with current medical data. According to the University of Michigan, Medicine News, if the knee is without swelling or pain, and the patient has regained range-of-motion and strength, returning to heavy work or sport within four to six weeks following surgery is a realistic expectation.
With almost all post-surgical rehabilitation, including an uncomplicated meniscectomy, recovery is separated into three areas of concern. It begins with reducing swelling and pain, followed by increasing range of motion and wraps-up with strengthening. The length of time for each phase of recovery will vary depending on loads of factors too numerous to mention. It’s important to understand, the reduction of swelling and lessening of pain is a function of the body’s ability to heal and is unique to the individual. The body communicates by way of pain, listen to it, and be patient.
An experienced physical therapist (PT) will help manage the recovery process and maximize the body’s ability to heal.
It’s a bit like Goldilocks—going too hard to soon could damage the joint, undoing the surgeon’s good work. Conversely, underworking the joint and failing to reach range-of-motion and strength benchmarks could push the four to six-week guideline beyond reach.
When I needed to know the best way to achieve both strength and range-of-motion following torn meniscus surgery, I asked a PT at Health Quest Therapy. The experts in lower extremity rehabilitation including rehabilitation following an uncomplicated meniscectomy, menisci repair, or conservative care approach. Turned out to be the right choice for me. If you have questions or concerns about lower extremity pain including a menisci injury, call (907) 376-6363 and schedule your free assessment today.