Because the menisci is a crucial part of your knee’s congruency, tearing it might lead to instability as well as some pain and swelling.
The good news is that wrapping – a relatively easy treatment for these injuries – helps with all those symptoms and helps your recovery run smoother. So, let’s talk about how to wrap a knee with a torn meniscus, shall we?
How to Wrap a Meniscus Injury
The 2 most common and convenient ways to do this are:
- Using an elastic bandage, and
- Using orthotics like knee sleeves and braces
Let’s talk about bandages first.
Using an elastic bandage
It’s cheap, it’s everywhere, and it’s easy to put on. For those very reasons, learning how to wrap your knee for a torn meniscus using an elastic bandage shouldn’t be that much of a challenge, especially since you likely will only use a couple of techniques: The spiral or the figure of 8.
For both, you’ll need:
- A 4- or 6-inch elastic bandage. Ace bandages are a common brand but any brand with adequate length should be fine.
- If your bandages didn’t come with locks like velcro, metal clips, or tape, you’d need those, too.
Spiral wrapping technique
- Sit on the edge of a chair so you can have your knee slightly bent to about 25 degrees. This position is what’s known as your knee’s resting neutral, meaning the joint prefers to be here over any other angle.
- Start your wrap about 1-2 inches below your kneecap. Wrap around this area twice to anchor the next wraps. This also serves as your starting point.
- Continue your wraps at a uniform upward angle. Each wrap should overlap the previous by at least 50% while maintaining the same amount of tension. Done right, all the wraps should form a spiral.
- Lock your wraps somewhere above your knee. Use whatever lock came with your purchase but if it didn’t come with any or you lost them somehow, using tape should do just fine. Also, if there’s any excess bandage, don’t wrap it back down. Cut it instead.
This technique is the most commonly used method in physical therapy and virtually most, if not all other medical settings for handling fresh injuries.
Theoretically, the upward sheathing of the elastic bandage – from below your knee to above your knee – helps your veins return your blood back to your heart. This, in turn, helps regulate inflammation which can also help you recover faster.
The figure of 8 wrapping technique
- Have your injured knee bent to about 25 degrees. Again, this is the preferred position of your knee joint, especially when it’s injured.
- Wrap the bandage 1-2 inches below your kneecap (patella). Wrap it twice to set your starting and anchor point. Just so we’re both on the same page, start wrapping from outside your lower leg, move towards your shin, then your inner leg, then circle back to the outside.
- From outside your leg, wrap upwards and in. The bandage should pass below your patella, moving in towards your lower thigh. From there, wrap around the same area, ending around the outside of your thigh.
- From there, wrap downwards and in. The bandage should now pass above your patella, moving towards the inner part of your leg, and essentially form an 8 as it crosses the angled wrap from the previous step. Wrap around the area until you’re back around the inside section of your leg.
- Wrap upwards and out. Now, the bandage travels behind the knee, towards the outer section of your joint, and to your thigh. From there, wrap around the area until you’re back around the inner section.
- Wrap down and out. The bandage now passes behind the knee, to the outer part of the joint, and to your leg. This is where the 2nd 8 forms. Wrap around the area about 2 more times.
- Lock your wraps. The last couple of coils serve as your endpoints. Now, all that’s left to do is make sure the whole thing stays in place with clips, velcro, or tape.
Along with the spiral technique, the figure of 8 has since been one of the most prevalent methods for wrapping limbs. However, it’s admittedly a little more complicated.
Basically, though, the point is to form 2 8s on either side of your knee. The tension from these 8s is what’s going to give your knee joint some support, albeit minimal.
What about knee sleeves and braces?
Essentially, sleeves and braces work under the same principles that make both the spiral and figure of 8 techniques effective.
- Sleeves are there primarily to provide compression which not only improves blood flow but also gives you the feeling of stability. Theoretically, this is because of the tactile sensation of having something wrapped around your joint.
- A brace gives you actual stability thanks to the metal hinges on the inner and/or outer sides of the knee joint. This helps prevent excessive movement on the joint which, in turn, may help prevent further damage.
Needless to say, a knee brace is better than the figure of 8 method when it comes to stabilizing your joint.
However, I don’t recommend using a brace or a sleeve during the early stage of injury because elastic bandages are easier to put on and take off. As such, simply donning and/or doffing these orthotics could irritate a sensitive new injury which, in turn, might disturb the healing process.
That being said, I think sleeves and braces are generally better for the later stages of your recovery. The rigidity of hinged braces is particularly great when you’re doing any sports-related exercise while the sleeve helps keep your joint warm which then promotes better blood flow.
Now, a lot of you might be asking:
“My tear came with a ligament tear & knee hyperextension. Should I treat it any different?”
This is actually very common in meniscus tears. As a matter of fact, one research shows how nearly 75% of ACL tears came with meniscal issues. I, for one, have had the unfortunate luck of having these injuries on 2 separate occasions:
- The first time, I tore my ACL.
- The second time, I retore the same ACL plus my menisci (and several other soft tissues).
So, know that I’m speaking from personal experience and from an expert’s standpoint as a physical therapist.
That being said, rehab and recovery for ACL and meniscus tears have more in common than they have differences.
So, you generally should treat them the same way. Here are a few quick things you should know and/or expect:
- Both injuries can heal on their own but more severe tears may require surgery.
- With injuries that require surgery, recovery may take 6 months or more but minor tears can heal in about 2.
- The initial phases of treatment for both tears involve controlling the swelling. This means rest, ice, compression, and elevation (or RICE for short). You may also need to use crutches.
- When the swelling has gone down, protocols for both involve strengthening and stretching the muscles around the joint, normalizing range of motion, balance exercises, and other specific exercises to get you ready to return to your sport.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I wrap my knee if I have a torn meniscus?
Yes, you should.
Compression is a crucial part of treatment during the early stages of injury and wrapping your knees with an elastic bandage is perhaps the most practical and easiest way to do it.
Can you bend your knee with a torn meniscus?
Well, yes and no.
Depending on the type of meniscus tear you have, you may feel it “lock” in place when you bend or straighten it. This is a typical symptom of certain types of meniscus tears that may require surgery. If this resonates with you, consult your doctor or physical therapist for options.
On the other hand, a lot of cartilage tears have mild symptoms; some have none at all. So, if your knees feel comfortable and stable enough to move, then, yes, you can bend your knee.
Will walking on a torn meniscus make it worse?
Generally, no. Walking on a torn meniscus won’t make it worse. In fact, it might even help you recover faster.
However, during the initial stages of your injury, it’s best if you rest your knee so it doesn’t swell too much. Ice, compression, and elevation will help with the swelling as well. If you did need to travel short distances – like from the living room to the kitchen, for example – you may also need to use crutches.
All in all, wrapping a meniscal injury comes down to either using an elastic bandage, knee sleeves, or a knee brace.
For fresh tears, I recommend an elastic bandage using the spiral or figure of 8 techniques because they’re easy to do, practical, and only apply gentle pressure around your knee which works great for promoting circulation without further irritating your injury. Knee sleeves work, too, but they might be more challenging to put on and take off.
Knee braces, on the other hand, are great for the later stages of recovery when you’re doing sports-related exercise or when you’re actually playing sports after your knees have fully recovered.