Having just ‘tweaked’ my knee this past weekend, and after watching a colleague suffer with a knee requiring surgery, I thought a brief introduction to the knee meniscus would be timely. 


The meniscus of the knee is made up of 2 C-shaped pieces of fibrocartilage between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). It has many functions in the knee, but for simplicity, we can think of it like a shock absorber between the 2 bones of your knee.


How Do You Injure Your Meniscus?


If you’ve heard of someone ‘tearing the cartilage’ in their knee, they likely had an injury to their meniscus. You can injure your meniscus in many ways, but meniscus injuries tend to vary by age and level of degeneration in someone’s knee. In a young, healthy individual with no history of knee injury, the mechanism is often a twist at the knee on a firmly planted leg. This is sometimes in a sporting context such as soccer, basketball, football, and other sports involving running, cutting, and collisions. In an older adult, meniscus injuries can occur in much more varied ways. Tennis and Pickleball seem to be 2 sports recently that are responsible for a good number of meniscus injuries, but it could also be something as simple as crouching/squatting, twisting, tripping, hiking or running. If you have a previous knee injury or known osteoarthritis, you are more prone to a meniscus injury as you age. 


What are the symptoms?


The symptoms can range from being as benign as having some pain on one side of your knee, to having your knee ‘lock’ and not be able to move it. Fortunately for me, my recent meniscus injury was very subtle and only resulted in 2 days of pain on the inside (medial side) of my knee after I squatted and twisted with my full weight on that leg. My colleague is at the other end of the spectrum. She had an old knee injury many years ago that resulted in a surgery to repair ligaments and the meniscus. Recently, this therapist injured her meniscus and her knee ‘locked’. It has since locked several times to the point where she was unable to bend or straighten her knee, and it was essentially ‘stuck’. This type of meniscus injury is typically surgical, but many meniscus injuries these days are not. Recent evidence now points towards conservative treatment for most meniscus injuries rather than surgery. Making sure to get full movement in the knee, reducing swelling, and minimizing loading and twisting on the injured limb are essential parts of rehabilitation. I generally try to get people onto a stationary bike if possible, as it takes the knee through a large range of motion with little weight-bearing. The meniscus loses circulation as we age, so it needs to get a lot of it’s nutrition through movement, which is why complete rest is generally not your answer.  


“I played tennis yesterday and today my knee is painful and swollen, but I didn’t feel anything while I was playing”


This is not an uncommon patient history. Many people 50+ are more active into their senior years, or they are taking up new sports in retirement. You can injure your meniscus golfing, playing tennis, etc simply by doing more than you have in recent months, or by increasing the intensity of your activity too quickly. Over several hours post-activity, your knee could slowly swell and begin to cause pain. For many people, this means they wake up the next day with a very painful knee that they can hardly put weight on initially.


How Long Does a Meniscus Take to Heal?


Unfortunately, there is no timeline for meniscus healing. The type of meniscus injury, age, pre-existing arthritis or meniscus damage, and many other factors make predicting recovery very difficult. Recovery could be as short as 1-2 days, but it can also take more than a year to fully recover from a meniscus injury. 


If you think you may have an injury to your meniscus, come and have one of our experienced physiotherapists assess your knee and give you some advice to help speed your recovery. 

Written by Kevin Stoll, Physiotherapist

If you would like to book an appointment with Kevin or any of our other therapists, please call the clinic directly at 250-314-0788 or book online here.