Will Walking On A Torn Meniscus Make It Worse?

woman holding her knees, walking on a torn meniscus

You know how to sit, stand, and sleep with a meniscus injury… But will walking on a torn meniscus make it worse?

Not necessarily! This will depend on the location of the tear, its pattern, your symptoms, and several other factors.

For example, walking could make it worse if the injury is:

  • Recent,
  • You have severe pain and swelling, and
  • The tear is in the white zone of the meniscus.

But, walking can also be harmless, if not help you recover.

So, here’s what you’ll find below:

  • Scenarios where walking may worsen the tear or when it can help with recovery
  • Tips for walking with a torn meniscus.
  • Movements to avoid.
  • How to treat a torn meniscus.

Let’s get this started, shall we?

Can walking on a torn meniscus make it worse?

It won’t make the torn meniscus worse if…

  • You can bear weight on the injured leg.
  • The pain is mild to moderate.
  • You have mild swelling.
  • The tear happened in the red zone of the meniscus.
  • Your doctor or physical therapist recommends walking.

In this scenario, going for a walk may help you recover as it:

  • Increases the blood supply to the area.
  • Promotes healing of the meniscus.
  • Helps you keep your strength and knee joint mobility.

Walking is usually part of a physical therapy regime to help you recover from a torn meniscus. Depending on the size and type of tear, you may need crutches or a knee brace first for extra support.

Walking may worsen the meniscus tear if…

  • You can’t bear weight on the injured leg.
  • You have severe pain and swelling.
  • The tear happened in the white zone of the meniscus.
  • Your doctor or physical therapist doesn’t recommend walking yet.

If you underwent surgery, your doctor might suggest avoiding walking with the injured leg for a while. In this case, you can expect walking again after a few weeks to let it heal.

Tips for walking with a torn meniscus

Use crutches

Crutches can help you walk without putting too much weight on the injured leg. This can help:

  • Reduce swelling
  • Reduce pain
  • Promote healing of the cartilage
  • Help you re-train your gait pattern

Use crutches for as long as your doctor and your physical therapist suggested. This can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of tear and whether you underwent surgery or not. (1, 2)

Every step is therapy.Cavanaugh, 2012

Consider wearing a knee brace

A knee brace is a garment used to protect the knee joint after an injury. It may also help prevent injuries from happening in the first place.

In a torn meniscus, it can help by:

  • Reducing the swelling due to its compression properties.
  • Promoting healing by restricting your range of motion.
  • Protecting and stabilizing the knee.

The type of brace will depend on your symptoms, treatment, and lifestyle. Consult with your doctor to know which brace is best for your meniscus tear.

Warm-up your muscles with these exercises

It’s wise to do a little warm-up before walking with a torn meniscus to prepare your muscles. This will help you walk with less pain and more stability on your knee, enhancing your recovery.

Here are some exercises to help you warm up:

  • Straight leg raises for the quadriceps.
  • Prone straight leg raises for the hamstrings and the glutes.
  • Sitting calf raises.
  • Sitting toe raises.

The warm-up shouldn’t be painful. If it is, reduce the range of motion and/or the number of reps until it isn’t.

Reduce your knee pain

Whether you’re following a conservative regime or recovering from surgery, walking may help you recover faster. But knee pain can make it difficult.

If your doctors recommend walking as part of your treatment, there are several ways to reduce knee pain before and after taking a walk:

  • Elevate the knee and use a compression bandage to reduce the swelling.
  • Put an ice pack on top of your knee for 10 minutes before and/or after the walk.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory if you have severe pain.

Please talk with your doctor before using any medication if you have any previous medical conditions.

Go to physical therapy

Physical therapy can help you walk with a torn meniscus by:

  • Reducing knee pain and swelling.
  • Helping you regain your range of motion and knee stability.
  • Teaching you how to walk to promote healing and prevent worsening the injury.

Find a physical therapist here!

Avoid these movements to let your meniscus tear heal

Your body will focus on healing your torn meniscus the first 4 or so weeks after your meniscus injury. So, your knee joint is going to be vulnerable.

Watch out for these movements as they can cause setbacks:

  • Twisting your knee.
  • Sudden changes of direction.
  • Kneeling.
  • Squatting.
  • Lifting heavy stuff from the floor.

Avoid these movements for as long as your healthcare provider recommends to prevent a re-tear.

Related topic: Is It Okay to Run With A Torn Meniscus?

How to treat a torn meniscus

The treatment generally depends on 3 factors:

1) What caused the torn meniscus

There are two main causes of meniscus tears:

Sports injuries

Sports with sudden changes of direction and direct contact between players can increase the risk of meniscal tears. We call these types of injuries traumatic tears.

Some examples include soccer, rugby, football, basketball, baseball, and skiing. (1)

In traumatic meniscus tears, it’s also common to see damage in some knee ligaments as well.

Young, physically active adults in whom a meniscal tear is diagnosed are more likely to have sustained tears due to trauma to an otherwise healthy knee.Englund, 2008

Here, the treatment includes physio therapy, rest, and exercises to strengthen the knee.

Severe tears may need surgery.

Aging

As we get older, the meniscus also ages with us. This may make it easier to tear.

According to research, there’s less force needed to tear menisci with degenerative changes. These are typical in people over 40 years old, especially those with osteoarthritis. (1)

Yet, this type of meniscus tear often causes little or no symptoms. (3)

Here, the treatment focuses on managing the symptoms – if any.

2) Location of the meniscus tear

The meniscus is divided into three zones (5):

Red-red zone

This is the area with the most blood supply. If the tear is here, it will likely heal on its own or with some conservative treatment.

Red-white zone

Here’s still some blood supply, so the tear may heal on its own. It may need surgery, depending on the pattern of the tear.

White-white zone

As the name implies, there isn’t any blood supply here. Tears in this zone are unlikely to generate a healing response. So, the orthopedic surgeon may recommend surgery to promote healing.

3) Pattern of the tear

The most common patterns of meniscal tears are(2,6):

Vertical longitudinal/Incomplete tears

These are usually a sign of degenerative problems. Most of them don’t need surgery and tend to be asymptomatic.

Oblique tear

This type of tear may cause a “flap” that can get caught within the knee joint, locking the knee. It may need surgery to remove the flap.

Degenerative tears

These are very common with age and osteoarthritis. The treatment focuses on managing the symptoms – if any.

Radial tear

This one is in the white-white zone of the meniscus, so it’s unlikely for it to heal on its own. Depending on the symptoms, it may need surgery to induce healing.

Horizontal tear

This type of tear splits the meniscus into upper and lower parts. As with incomplete tears, it can be asymptomatic, and it’s more common with age. But they can turn into flap tears.(6)

The best treatment for your torn meniscus

As seen above, the best treatment will depend on the cause, location, and pattern of the meniscus tear.

They can either be conservative or non-conservative:

Conservative treatment

Conservative treatment for a torn meniscus refers to any non-surgical option. These generally include physical therapy and medication.

The goal is to promote healing, strengthen the leg, reduce pain, and help you get back on track. It can take 4-6 weeks to see whether there’s a spontaneous healing of the tear.(1)

Physiotherapy and strength training are great options for managing meniscus tears in most people. Many studies have shown that:

  • Some meniscus tear surgeries can predispose you to develop knee osteoarthritis.(1)
  • 12 weeks of exercises with a physical therapist can provide the same results as an arthroscopic meniscectomy. Plus, it doesn’t come with the side effects associated with surgery. (7)

Non-conservative treatment

This is surgery. This is generally case by case, but it usually becomes an option when:

  • The pain, swelling, and other symptoms remain despite doing conservative treatment.
  • There’s a ligament injury as well.
  • There’s severe locking and catching of the knee joint.

The goal here is to preserve as much healthy meniscus as possible while managing the symptoms.(5)

Of the possible types of surgery, the meniscal repair is generally preferred over meniscectomy. The latter removes a part or all the meniscus, and it’s linked with early osteoarthritis. (1)

Physical therapy will be part of the management plan in both conservatively managed and surgical cases. – Raj, 2020

FAQs

How long does a torn meniscus take to heal?

A full recovery could take anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 months. This will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The size of the tear.
  • How it happened.
  • Whether there are torn ligaments or not.
  • Type of treatment (surgery usually takes longer to heal compared to conservative treatment).
  • Your age and lifestyle.

Will walking re-tear a meniscus?

As long as you follow the recommendations of your doctor and physical therapist, no.

How do I know if I have a torn meniscus?

You may feel a sharp pain and a “pop” at the moment of injury. You may also feel:

  • Pain and swelling, usually worse after 24 hours.
  • A feeling like your knee is “giving out.”
  • Knee stiffness.
  • Locking or catching of the knee joint.

What is the best exercise for meniscus tears?

The best exercise will depend on your symptoms, goals, and where you are in your recovery process.

Generally speaking, it’s best to do exercises that strengthen your legs. But do so under the supervision of a healthcare professional, so you don’t get injured again.

Common exercises for meniscus tears include:

  • Straight leg raises
  • Squat variations
  • Hamstring curls
  • Calf raises

Conclusion: Does walking on a torn meniscus make it worse?

No, if it’s recommended by your healthcare provider.

To make it safer for you, you can try walking with crutches or a knee brace.

Keep in mind that each patient progresses at a different pace. Don’t push yourself and pay attention to your body signals.

Resources

  1. Raj Marc, et al. “Knee Meniscal Tears.” [Updated 2020 Jul 19]. StatPearls. Retrieved on June 14, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431067/
  2. Cavanaugh, John T, and Sarah E Killian. “Rehabilitation following meniscal repair.” Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine vol. 5,1 (2012): 46-58. doi:10.1007/s12178-011-9110-y
  3. Englund, Martin et al. “Meniscal tear in knees without surgery and the development of radiographic osteoarthritis among middle-aged and elderly persons: The Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study.” Arthritis and rheumatism vol. 60,3 (2009): 831-9. doi:10.1002/art.24383
  4. Englund, Martin et al. “Incidental meniscal findings on knee MRI in middle-aged and elderly persons.” The New England journal of medicine vol. 359,11 (2008): 1108-15. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0800777
  5. Bryceland, James Kevin et al. “Knee Menisci.” Cartilage vol. 8,2 (2017): 99-104. doi:10.1177/1947603516654945
  6. Mordecai, Simon C et al. “Treatment of meniscal tears: An evidence based approach.” World journal of orthopedics vol. 5,3 233-41. 18 Jul. 2014, doi:10.5312/wjo.v5.i3.233
  7. Kise, Nina Jullum et al. “Exercise therapy versus arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for degenerative meniscal tear in middle aged patients: randomised controlled trial with two year follow-up.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 354 i3740. 20 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1136/bmj.i3740