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Treatment Options for Torn Meniscus

by Patty Weasler, RN February 21, 2020 0 Comments

Cold knee brace with compression

A meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries, especially among athletes who play contact sports. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage in between your thigh bone and shinbone. It helps to protect and cushion your knee joint. If you have a torn meniscus your treatment options and recovery will be reflective of the severity and location of the tear. Keep reading to learn about treatment options and expected recovery time for a torn meniscus.     

Initial Treatment

If you are experiencing knee pain that was preceded by a “pop” sound you may have torn your meniscus. The outer edges of the menisci have a good blood supply making a tear within that region fairly easy to heal. The inner portion of the menisci does not have a blood supply. Tears in this region typically need to be surgically repaired.

RICE Protocol

Treatment for a meniscal tear on the outer edge typically requires nonsurgical treatment with rest, ice, and some pain medications. If your knee is stable after the injury your doctor will likely ask you to adapt the RICE protocol. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation will reduce pain, speed up healing, and minimize swelling.

Learn More About Alternating Ice & Heat After Injury

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are good medications to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. As long as you don’t have a contraindication to NSAIDs, taking one regularly after your knee injury can help you get back on your feet faster.

Imaging Tests

Your doctor will do an initial physical examination to determine if you do in fact have a meniscus tear and to evaluate the severity of the tear. Imaging tests are one way to help your doctor provide a diagnosis. X-rays are not helpful with this type of injury but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can give your doctor a good picture. Another excellent way your doctor can diagnose a torn meniscus is with the McMurray test. During this test, your doctor will bend your knee, straighten it, and then turn it. If your knee makes a clicking sound during the McMurray test then you likely have a torn meniscus. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for a meniscus injury focuses on strengthening exercises for the muscles surrounding the knee. This will add stability to the joint and help maintain range of motion. When you begin seeing a physical therapist they will evaluate your knee injuries to determine the best treatment plan. Your physical therapist may recommend tools to help you reduce the impact on your feet and legs, like orthotics or a knee brace.

Physical Therapy for Torn Meniscus


Strengthening and range of motion exercises are a crucial part of meniscus tear treatment and recovery. Both in strengthening your muscles and in maintaining appropriate body weight. Building muscles in your knee and the surrounding area will help stabilize your knee joint. Keeping your body weight at its ideal level will place less stress on your knee and other joints. To learn more about how exercise affects your meniscus tear check out this article below.

Night Time Treatment

Treating a meniscus tear doesn’t stop just because it’s night time. During the night you’ll focus on managing pain and swelling to help you sleep better. This can be done through multiple techniques like taking one of the anti-inflammatory medications or using heat or cold therapy. Adequate nighttime treatment can improve healing and reduce recovery time.

Find new ways to manage knee pain at night in our in-depth guide


If nonsurgical treatment isn’t sufficient then your doctor will suggest surgery. There are three types of surgical treatments done by orthopedic surgeons for a torn meniscus. Your doctor will decide which option is best based on your type of tear. Read on to learn more about each surgical treatment option. 

Knee Arthroscopy

Arthroscopic knee surgery is the most common surgical repair a meniscus tear. During this meniscus repair, the surgeon makes a small incision in the knee to insert a small camera called an arthroscope into the knee joint. Through other small incisions, the surgeon will place surgical instruments to do the meniscal repair. Arthroscopic surgery may involve either repairing the meniscus or cutting away the damaged area.

Partial Meniscectomy

A partial meniscectomy is when the damaged meniscal tears are cut away. This surgical procedure is done when the meniscus cannot be repaired. Your surgeon may choose to trim away the damaged meniscus because the tear is in the region without blood supply or for other reasons.

Total Meniscectomy

During a total meniscectomy, the entire meniscus is removed. This type of surgery can increase your risk of osteoarthritis. Yet, leaving a damaged meniscus can also be harmful. Thankfully, total meniscectomy is a rare surgical procedure.

Recovery Time

Your recovery and rehabilitation time will depend upon which type of surgery you had. After a meniscus repair, the meniscus must heal, therefore your overall healing time is longer. Expect three months for a full recovery after a meniscus repair.

After a meniscectomy healing time is shorter, typically three to four weeks. Once the immediate healing time has passed rehabilitation can be done at home. With the help of a physical therapist, you’ll be moving soon after your surgery. The physical therapist will give you a plan of strengthening exercises to regain muscle strength and improve your knee’s range of motion.

Safe and Effective Meniscus Tear Treatment

A meniscus tear is an extremely common knee injury, often caused by twisting movements. Conservative treatment can be done in the comfort of your own home with the RICE protocol and medications. If your doctor determines that surgery is necessary to repair your meniscal tear he or she will discuss with you the best surgical repair option. Whichever treatment you need, recovery will require your active participation to regain strength and knee movement.




Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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