Every year, more than 850,000 meniscus tear surgeries are performed in the United States. Surgery is often needed following a meniscus tear because the cartilage doesn’t heal well, which is one good reason to do your best to prevent an injury in the first place.
Although Steven Nolan, MD is an exceptional orthopedic surgeon who has repaired many meniscus tears, he’d rather help you develop a conditioning program that reduces your risk of a meniscus tear by strengthening the muscles that support your knee.
The vulnerable meniscus
The meniscus is the layer of cartilage that stabilizes your knee, absorbs shock, and helps protect the cartilage covering the ends of your leg bones. It sustains a lot of pressure and supports extensive movement, which makes it susceptible to tearing.
Depending on where the meniscus tears, it may not heal. Part of the cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply, and without the oxygen, nutrients, and growth factors delivered in the bloodstream, it can’t heal.
The best way to prevent a meniscus tear is with a conditioning program that protects your knee by keeping the muscles around it strong and balanced. A solid program to prevent an injured meniscus should include all of the following tips:
Don’t ignore knee pain
My first tip is critical — don’t ignore knee pain. This tip may not help you prevent a meniscus tear, but it will help you stop the injury from worsening.
The tricky thing about a meniscus tear is that you may feel pain, but chances are you’ll still be able to move. Additionally, your symptoms may seem mild at first, but with a meniscus tear, symptoms get progressively worse over a few days or weeks.
In the meantime, you’ll be tempted to push through the pain and stay active. That’s a mistake if you have a meniscus tear because you’ll cause further damage to the tissue.
When you have knee pain, call my office to schedule an appointment and to get some recommendations for self-care to protect your knee.
Warm up with dynamic stretching
You should always warm up by stretching before and after you exercise or engage in sports or other activities. Stretching prevents injuries while you exercise and reduces muscle soreness when you’re finished exercising.
When we remind our patients to stretch their leg muscles, they often envision static exercises — the type where they suddenly go into a stretch, like touching your toes to the floor, then hold the position for about 30 seconds.
It’s better for your knee if you engage in dynamic stretching. You can do this by moving muscles and joints through their full range of motion using controlled and smooth movements.
Strengthen leg muscles
One key to preventing a meniscus tear is to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Keeping your leg muscles strong and balanced takes pressure off the joint and decreases the amount of weight absorbed by the meniscus in your knee.
To help prevent meniscus tears, you should routinely perform exercises that target these muscles:
- Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
- Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
- Abductors (outer thigh)
- Adductors (inner thigh)
Be sure to start your program slowly, and remember that building muscle strength takes time. As your muscles get stronger, you can gradually increase repetitions or add weight.
You may feel stiff or sore the next day, but if you feel pain during or after your exercises, stop and rest your muscles.
Maintain strong hip and buttocks muscles
You may not associate your hip and butt muscles with preventing a meniscus tear, but they’re just as important as your leg muscles when it comes to knee stability.
Your hip joint is the link between your torso and legs. This means your hip muscles need to be strong and balanced to keep your knee properly aligned and to allow it to bend without twisting, which is the motion that causes a meniscus tear.
Rest your muscles
Muscles develop small tears when you exercise, so it’s important to give them time to rest and heal. If you continue to exercise or train before these microtears heal, the tears get worse and cause inflammation. Ultimately, that inflammation weakens the muscle and puts you at risk for more severe injuries.
Whether you engage in a high-intensity sport that increases your risk for meniscal injury, or you’re worried about age-related knee degeneration that makes a tear more likely, Steven Nolan, MD can work with you to develop an exercise program that gives you the best chance of avoiding a meniscus tear. To learn more, call the office or book an appointment online.