A torn meniscus is a common cause of knee pain. The meniscus is a special thick layer of cartilage that lines the knee joint providing cushioning and support. When the meniscus get torn, it often leads to weakness, stiffness and pain in the knee.
Exercises are one of the best treatment options for a torn meniscus. They aim to increase the strength of the muscles around the knee so that the amount of weight going through the cartilage is reduced.
A meniscus tear can occur with a twisting injury or may develop over time, visit the Meniscus Tear section to find out more about the injury including symptoms, diagnosis and other treatment options.
There are 2 main aims with recovery from a torn meniscus:
It can take quite a while to recover from a torn meniscus as the cartilage has a poor blood supply which slows healing, so it is really important to regain full movement and strength to help speed up recovery.
We will start by looking at exercises to help you regain full knee movement, and then move on to strengthening exercises.
When you have a torn meniscus there tends to be swelling in the knee joint which stops the knee being able to fully bend and straighten. It is much harder work for the body to function with a knee that doesn’t have full range and the torn meniscus ends up taking more weight through it, which can slow down the healing process and make it more prone to damage. It is therefore vital to regain full range of movement with a torn meniscus.
Purpose: enable full straightening of the knee, maintain and strengthen the Quads without moving the knee
Starting position: Lying flat on your back or sitting up. Leg and knee straight
Action: Tighten the muscle on the front of the thigh by pushing your knee down. You should feel your thigh muscles clench. Hold for 3 secs
Repetition: Repeat 10-20x every 3-4 hours
Variations: If you are struggling to get your knee to straighten fully, place a rolled up towel underneath the ankle so that your leg is lifted slightly on the bed. Then do the exercise as described. Lifting the knee up slightly lets gravity help the knee to straighten
Purpose: Increase knee extension (how much the knee straightens)
Starting Position: Lie on your tummy with your kneecap just over the end of the bed/table
Action: Relax your leg and straighten the knee allowing gravity to help it to stretch down into a straighter position. Hold for 1-2 minutes then gently bend and straighten your knee a few times to stop it getting stiff
Repetition: Repeat 3x, 2x daily
Note: Do not stay in the position for too long as it can make the knee feel very stiff - limit to about 5 minutes
Purpose: Regain full flexion (bending) of the knee, aids circulation
Intro: This is a really good knee exercise to do first thing in the morning to loosen your knee up before you get up
Starting position: Lying flat on your back or sitting up. Leg and knee straight out on a bed or along the floor.
Action: Slide your heel towards your bottom as far as you comfortably can, bending your hip and knee. Keep your heel on the bed/floor. Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly return to starting position
Repetition: Repeat 10-30 times, 2-3x daily. Gradually aim to bend your knee a little more each time
Progression: Carry out the exercise as above but when you’ve bent your knee as much as you can hook a towel over the ankle and pull it towards you to help the knee bend further – you can achieve the same effect by hooking your opposite foot over the ankle and pushing with that leg to gain more knee bending.
Variations: Make the exercise easier by placing a board and/or a plastic bag underneath your foot so you have a slippery surface making it easier to move
Purpose: Increase knee flexion and aid circulation
Starting position: Sitting on a dining chair with your knee bent and your foot on the floor
Action: Slide your foot backwards on the floor as far as comfortable so you are bending the knee more. Hold for 3-5 secs
Repetition: Repeat 10-25x 3x daily
Progression: 1) Hook your other foot around the front of the ankle and push backwards with it to further bend your knee
2) Once you have slid your heel back as far as you can, raise yourself up on your chair using your arms and slide you bottom forwards keeping your foot still. You will find this makes your knee bend even more
Purpose: Increase knee flexion to ensure knee bends fully
Starting position: Get on all fours on the floor, knees directly runder hips and hands under shoulders
Action: Sit back taking your bottom towards you heels as far as you can. Hold for 3-5 secs
Repetition: Repeat 10x, 2x daily
The stronger the knee muscles are, the less weight goes through the knee joint and therefore the torn meniscus. Muscles lose strength after just a few days of rest so it is vital to build up strength as soon as possible. Having good strength in the muscles also ensures that the weight which does go through the torn meniscus is distributed evenly, again speeding recovery.
These exercises will help to strengthen the knee muscles. You don’t have to do all of them, pick 2 or 3 that feel best for you, and stick with those. Then, after a few weeks, you might want to change to some different ones.
Purpose: Strengthen the quads muscles without much knee movement
Starting position: Lying flat on your back or sitting up with your leg horizontal on a flat surface such as a bed. Place a rolled up towel (approx 10cm diameter) under the knee.
Action: Pull your toes towards you and clench you thigh muscles. Slowly lift your foot up off the bed until your knee is straight (keep your knee resting on the towel). Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly lower
Repetition: repeat 10-20 times, 3x daily
Progression: 1) Increase the size of the towel under the knee2) Add a weight eg by wearing a shoe, or using a light ankle weight. Progress further by using a heavier weight
Purpose: Quadruple benefit with this one - Strengthens the quads/hamstrings/glutes at the same time and increases knee mobility/flexibility.
Starting position: Stand with your back against the wall, feet apart and about 30cms from the wall, toes pointing forwards
Action: Slowly slide down the wall a few inches bending your knees. Hold for 3-5 seconds and return to starting position.
Repetition: Repeat 10-25 times, 2x daily
Progression: 1) Increase the depth of the dip 2) Hold the bent knee position for longer (aiming for 10secs)
Note: As you squat, don’t let your knees come too far in or out - Keep your knee in line with your 2nd toe so you can always see your big toe past the inside of your knee
Purpose: Strengthen the buttock muscles (glutes) to help support the knee and prevent excessive weight going through the inner side of the knee, where a majority of mensicus tears occur.
Starting position: Lie on your side with your hip and knees bent approx 90°, feet together.
Action: Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee up as high as you can. Hold for 3 seconds and slowly lower
Repetition: Repeat 10-25x on each side, 2x daily
Note: Do not let your top hip roll backwards
Purpose: Strengthen the quads, improve balance, improve knee stability
Starting Position: Stand sideways on top of a step. Hold the wall/rail for support
Action: Slowly lower your good leg down to the floor and then bring it back up (keeping your other foot up on the step throughout)
Repetition: Repeat 5-20x, 2x daily
Note: 1) You are aiming to do this in a slow, controlled fashion2) Don’t let the knee twist inwards, keep it in line with your 2nd toe so you can always see your big toe
Purpose: Strengthen the hamstrings whilst also working the quads and buttock muscles
Starting Position: Lie on your back with both knees bent about 90° and your feet on the floor/bed
Action: Clench your buttocks and lift your bottom off the bed as high as you can without arching your back. Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower
Repetitions: Repeat 10-25 times, 1-2x daily
Note: 1) Keep your back straight – don’t let it arch as you lift up, it should be your bottom doing the work 2) Don’t hold your breath – keep breathing normally3) Don’t let your knees drop out – imagine you are trying to hold a tennis ball between your knees
Progression: Once you can do 25 of these easily, progress onto single leg bridging – see Intermediate exercises.
Sometimes after a torn meniscus, the kneecap muscles get weak. This leads to patellar maltracking (a problem with how the kneecap moves) and can lead to longer term knee problems. To find out how to strengthen your kneecap muscles, visit the kneecap strengthening section.
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Updated 5th March 2014
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