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Returning to Sports After a Meniscus Tear

Whether you play sports competitively or recreationally, every time you suit up to play, you’re at risk for various injuries, including a meniscal tear. You can definitely recover from it, and even have a good chance of returning to the court or field, but only if you take proper precautions and diligently follow the treatment plan.

Our expert team of orthopedic doctors specializes in getting you back to the life and activities you love after your injury. If you’ve torn your meniscus, we start by making sure your diagnosis is accurate. A few symptoms are consistent with most meniscal injuries, including that popping sound you heard, followed by swelling, pain, and stiffness in your knee. But to be sure, we take an X-ray or an MRI, or maybe even use a scope to see what’s happening under the surface. 

A quick look at your meniscus and what happens during injury

Your meniscus is a small piece of cartilage that cushions your knee joint. Your thigh bone (femur) connects to your shin bone (tibia) in your knee joint. To keep those bones from rubbing on each other and to absorb shock, your meniscus provides a soft barrier between the two. If you plant your foot and twist, you can tear your meniscus. 

If it’s a minor tear, a conservative approach to treatment might do the trick. This means simple application of rest, ice, compression, and elevation, also known as RICE. The goal here is to reduce swelling and allow your body to heal itself over time.

If you’re not responding to RICE, you might need to have the rough edges of your torn meniscus shaved or cut away or have the tear repaired with stitches. Called arthroscopic surgery, this is a relatively minor procedure that only requires a small incision.

If you’re dealing with a severe tear, your best option may be a complete meniscus transplant. In this case, a donor meniscus would replace your own.

In all of these scenarios, the success rate is high and the risk is low. 

How quickly can I return to sports after I tear my meniscus?

Your return to sports depends heavily on how severe your injury is and how extensive your treatment plan. We at Peninsula Orthopedic Associates do our best to get you back in the game as quickly as possible while ensuring that you do so with full stability, no pain, and minimal chance of reinjury due to a premature return.

With that said, keep in mind that serious meniscal tears can sideline you for good, even with surgery and rehab. Depending on your sport, you may have to modify your performance level or frequency. For instance, if you’re a runner who goes out almost every day, you may need to cut back your routine to 3-4 days a week. More frequent than that and the impact on your knee joint with a compromised meniscus can do more damage and cause more pain.

All cases of meniscus injury require physical therapy. Your recovery time and ability to return to sports depend on how diligently you follow your physical therapy and at-home instructions.

One study established a general rule of thumb for returning to sports after meniscal injuries:

Partial meniscectomy

When you have your meniscus shaved or cut to remove a jagged edge, you may be able to return to sports in 7-9 weeks. Most athletes make a full recovery from this procedure and are able to return to their sport. 

Meniscus repair

If our doctors decide a repair is in order, you’re looking at a recovery time of 5½ months. After this procedure, 81%-89% of athletes return to their sport. 

Meniscus transplant

The most extreme case, a meniscus transplant, calls for the longest recovery time: 7½-16½ months. After this procedure, 67%-86% of athletes return to their sport.

Whether you have a minor or major tear in your meniscus, you want to give yourself every chance at a full recovery even if you don’t plan to return to your sport. Our orthopedists and physical therapists set you on a path to maximize your healing and functionality no matter what you have planned.

Call today to schedule an appointment at either of our two Daly City, California, locations, or book online.

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