8 Tips for Recovering from a Torn Meniscus

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A doctor talking to a smiling patient lying in a hospital bed
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A tear in the meniscus—the cartilage in your knee—can be painful. It can also greatly limit your mobility. The key to ending the pain and regaining function is to follow all the steps your doctor outlines for your recovery. Some people have a minor tear that can heal without surgery. Others need surgery to repair the damage. Either way, taking the right approach to your torn meniscus recovery will help ensure its success. Here is what you need to know.

1. Practice R.I.C.E. during torn meniscus recovery.

For a minor tear on the outer edge of the meniscus, you may not need surgery. Instead, doctors often prescribe “R.I.C.E.” That stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

  • Rest the knee often. That means not doing whatever activity led to the injury. 
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee several times a day for 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between your skin and the ice.
  • Apply compression by wearing a bandage or brace. This keeps the knee stable.
  • Elevate the knee while you're resting or when you're icing it. Raising it helps reduce swelling.

2. Try over-the-counter pain relievers.

During recovery from a torn meniscus, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help ease pain. They can also help reduce swelling. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Be sure to carefully follow the instructions on the bottle. Contact your doctor if your pain continues or gets worse.

3. Keep the brace in place.

If you had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, you will probably have a bandage and a brace on it afterwards. This is very important to keep the knee stable. Most people need to leave this on until physical therapy begins. If you feel the need to remove the brace or bandage for some reason, be sure to ask your doctor first.

4. Lean on crutches.

Some people need crutches before surgery and most people need them after the operation. Expect to use them to help with walking for about a month. This can be frustrating at times. But it's important to use properly adjusted crutches when you move because they keep pressure off the knee. This will help your recovery. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when it’s safe to stop using them.

5. Take it easy.

Recovering from meniscus surgery takes both time and patience. You probably were active before the injury, and you can be again. First, though, you need to give your knee time to recover. Trying to rush back to your former activities can delay your progress. It could even do harm. So try to relax. Practice R.I.C.E. Let your body puts its energy toward healing your knee. You’ll be glad you did.

6. Get a little help from your friends.

You will probably not be able to drive for up to three weeks. Before your surgery, line up friends or relatives you can rely on to take you places. This starts with driving you home after surgery, but you’ll also need rides to your follow-up appointments. You may also need help with some everyday tasks and errands for a few weeks. Don't hesitate to let others do the work. The more your knee rests, the better it will recover.

7. Rehab with diligence.

As part of your recovery, you’ll probably begin physical therapy. At first, you'll do exercises to improve the knee’s range of motion. As your knee heals, you'll start to work on strengthening exercises. You'll learn how to do the exercises at your physical therapy appointments. Then you will do them on your own at home. These exercises are one of the most critical parts of recovery. So stick with the plan and carefully follow all of your therapist’s instructions.

8. Keep all follow-up appointments.

Your surgeon will want to see you again to check on your progress and determine when you can return to your normal activities. Recovery time from meniscus surgery can range from 3 weeks to 3 months or more. The nature of your injury, the type surgery you had, your overall health, and your commitment to your recovery plan all affect when you'll be back to normal. If you have any problems between appointments, contact your surgeon right away.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Knee Arthroscopy. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00299

  2. Meniscal Tears. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00358

  3. Meniscal Tears. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/orthopaedics-rheumatology/diseases-conditions/meniscal-tears