How to return to sport following a meniscal tear?

Dr. Marx was recently quoted in an article about meniscal tears in elite basketball athletes. The meniscus is a c-shaped structure made of cartilage that serves as a cushion or shock absorber in the knee. Each knee has two menisci, which may tear if the knee undergoes a forceful twisting or rotating motion. It is a common injury in athletes, especially those who participate in cutting sports such as basketball.

Symptoms of a torn meniscus include pain, swelling, stiffness, and instability of the knee. A torn meniscus may also lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Treatment options for this condition range from non-operative (rehabilitation) to surgery.

Sometimes, just rest and ice is enough to alleviate the pain while the meniscus symptoms resolve. Patients may also opt for physical therapy to help strengthen leg muscles and support the knee. Other times, however, surgery is required to treat the torn meniscus. For example, surgery may be a preferred option for active patients who do not get relief with non-operative treatment. In some cases, surgeons may repair the tear, but in others the tear is irreparable and the surgeon may surgically remove the torn portion of the meniscus.

After operative treatment, patients undergo a period of rehabilitation performing exercises aimed at improving leg strength and range of motion. The length of the rehabilitation program may vary based on the patient’s characteristics such as age and the type of surgery. Rehabilitation programs for meniscal repair tend to be longer, lasting on average for 6 months. Programs after a meniscectomy are shorter—around 3 months. Rehabilitation programs may be accelerated for elite athletes by increasing the intensity of the exercises, but even in these cases the rehabilitation period can be a month or more.

For more information on recovery from meniscal tears in athletes, please refer to the article here.

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