So your doctor told you that you injured or even tore your meniscus? Now what?
First off, lets go over what the meniscus is! The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of tough, rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and thighbone. It can be torn if you suddenly twist your knee while bearing weight on it. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries1.
The interesting thing about the meniscus is that there are cases that doctors may not recommend any sort of surgery, even in the case of a tear. Usually this is an age related choice, as you can actually function quite normally with a torn meniscus.
Whether you tear your meniscus and get surgery or not, the recovery protocol is practically the same.
Your doctor will most likely encourage some form of physical therapy, which will incorporate many rehab and knee stability exercises. However, two areas that often get overlooked are the muscles both above and below the knee. Many times when the knee is injured, its because it has been “tasked” with doing the work of a joint above or below it – the ankle or hip. The knee is supposed to be a relatively stable joint while the ankle and hip are very mobile.
Types of Knee Braces for a Meniscus Injury
To help stabilize the knee while pre or rehabbing, you will want to get outfitted for a quality knee brace. Usually, there are three types of knee braces you can purchase:
Soft Sleeve – these braces provide good compression and the most movement, and are often used towards the end of rehabbing or just used once you return to normal physical activities that you like to participate in. Try Mueller’s Hybrid Wraparound Knee Support.
Wraparound Hinged – these provide the most support, and especially provide lateral stability to the knee to help with tracking the knee where it should be. These provide the least amount of mobility, and are often used early on in a major injury or post surgery. Try Mueller’s Self-Adjusting® Hinged Knee Brace.
To determine what type of brace you should wear, I recommend asking your sports medicine doctor or physical therapist, as one person’s knee injury can be very different from another.
Taking a look at strengthening above and below, two great exercises to incorporate are side planks and calf raises.
Side planks make a huge difference because weakness of the hip abductor muscles (the muscles on the outside of the hips) correlates with knee pain. If your body is not strong enough on the sides, your knee will fall into irregular side-to-side motion, also known as compensation, which can aggravate the meniscus and cause pain. Watch this example of a proper side plank: SIDE PLANK VIDEO
Things to note:
Focus on keeping your elbow directly under the shoulder
Squeeze your glutes and keep your body straight as a board.
Breathe and brace for 15-30 seconds per side
Calf raises not only help strengthen your calf, but also help add ankle dorsiflexion mobility – which when limited, can cause some serious knee issues. Strengthening your calf doesn’t take much weight, but you want to keep it higher rep since the calves are constantly used in walking and need higher levels of stimulation to develop. Watch this CALF RAISE VIDEO.
After completing physical therapy for you knee, you will want to get back into strength training to continue strengthening around the knee, and building up a more stable joint. The best way to make a joint more stable is to make the muscles around the joint stronger.
The two largest muscle groups that directly attach into the knee are the quadriceps (front of your thigh) and hamstrings (back of your thigh).
Proper strength training of both of these muscle groups will not only make them stronger but help add tremendous stability to your knees.
Start with one of my favorite exercises – the goblet box squat. Holding a free weight like a dumbbell or kettlebell, sit BACK to a bench, box or chair – allowing your shin angle to stay more vertical, putting less strain on your knee. Sit back with about 50% of your weight (do not completely relax on the box or lift your feet off the ground) and drive your heels into the ground to stand back up.
To target your hamstrings, you could do either a simple HAMSTRING BRIDGE or HAMSTRING CURL – with a stability ball. The bridge is more simple, and still very effective, but the curl trains the hamstring through a full range of motion which is crucial to getting your full function of your knee back.
I also love the hamstring curl with a ball vs. a machine because it also incorporates your hips, glutes and smaller stabilizer muscles.
Eventually you will want to incorporate some single leg work like lunges or split squats but take it easy at first with just body weight and shorter range of motion as you continue to gain this back.
Just because you injure or have surgery on your meniscus doesn’t mean your athletic days are over. Get yourself the perfect Mueller knee brace, find a good physical therapist, and eventually partner with a certified personal trainer and you will be back to playing your sport in no time!