Walking on a Torn Meniscus and Treatments for Recovery

Medically Reviewed By Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
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A meniscus tear is a common knee injury that typically occurs during sports. It is usually caused by twisting your knee, at which point you might feel a “pop.” With the right treatment, you can heal a torn meniscus. Around 61 in every 100,000 people in the United States will experience a meniscus tear. You are most at risk of a torn meniscus if you play a lot of sports, are in the military, or have an occupation that requires a lot of kneeling or squatting.

It is important to follow the treatment guidelines suggested by your doctor to allow the tear to heal properly. You can expect your knee to naturally become stiffer and swollen 2–3 days after the tear.

Read on to find out more about how to treat a meniscus tear. This guide includes information about when to rest your knee and when it is OK to walk or run.

Quick facts about meniscus tears

  • A traumatic meniscus tear tends to happen when the knee turns too quickly.
  • Degenerative meniscus tears occur over time as the meniscus becomes worn.
  • Around 61 in every 100,000 people in the U.S. will experience a torn meniscus.
  • Athletes and military personnel are particularly at risk of traumatic meniscus tears.

What is a torn meniscus?

A traumatic torn meniscus typically happens when the meniscus tears due to quickly turning the knee while the foot is still planted on the ground. A degenerative meniscal tear can also occur as the meniscus becomes worn over time.

The meniscus provides cushioning between the femur and tibia, or the thighbone and shinbone. Each knee has two menisci: one on the inside and one on the outside of the knee. These are known as the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus, respectively.

The meniscus is responsible for preventing the femur and tibia from grinding against each other. It also helps transmit weight evenly. When the meniscus becomes torn, it prevents the knee from being able to function properly.

View our torn meniscus hub for more information.

What does a torn meniscus feel like?

When the meniscus tears, you may feel a sensation similar to a “pop.” The knee joint will become painful, and you may feel a locking or catching sensation.

Your knee may feel weak. You may also experience a sense of your knee buckling or giving way.

Is it safe to walk on a torn meniscus?

For most people, it is safe to walk with a torn meniscus. Activities that involve twisting or squatting are more likely to cause pain and discomfort than walking.

However, if you find that you experience pain when walking with a meniscus tear, try to rest your knee instead. Following treatment guidelines from your doctor can help the injury heal.

How to treat a torn meniscus

The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend on whether the tear is in the “red zone” or the “white zone” of the meniscus.

The red zone refers to the outer one-third of the meniscus. This area has a rich blood supply, which means that it might be able to heal on its own. Contrastingly, the inner two-thirds of the meniscus, known as the white zone, do not contain the blood vessels required for self-healing.

Treatments include both nonsurgical and surgical options.

Nonsurgical treatments

Nonsurgical treatments for a torn meniscus include resting, icing, and taking anti-inflammatory medications. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend injections of corticosteroids.

RICE

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It is often used to soothe and treat musculoskeletal injuries. To perform the RICE technique effectively, follow the directions below:

  • Rest: Rest your knee, avoiding putting weight on it as much as possible. You may also benefit from using crutches if you cannot avoid walking around.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to your knee for around 20 minutes at a time. You can do this several times each day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression: An elastic compression bandage can help reduce swelling. This can also help alleviate any pain.
  • Elevation: Sit with your leg elevated, ideally higher than your heart. This helps reduce swelling.

You may find that, even with icing, you cannot walk without experiencing pain or without using a crutch. If this is the case, contact your doctor.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can help restore movement and function in your knee. Your practitioner will help you move your knee safely without risking further damage. They will also be able to see how quickly your injury is healing and be able to advise if additional treatment may be required.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help alleviate swelling and pain from a torn meniscus. Some examples include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.

Injections

Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections. These will be injected into your knee to help reduce pain and swelling.

Studies into the effectiveness of biological treatments are also underway. This includes research into the benefits of platelet-rich plasma for meniscus tears.

Surgical treatments

Your doctor may advise surgery for a torn meniscus if your symptoms persist following nonsurgical treatments or if your symptoms prevent you from trying nonsurgical treatments. Surgical options include:

  • Knee arthroscopy: During knee arthroscopy, a surgeon will insert a small camera through an incision in the knee. This provides a view of the torn meniscus so that the surgeon can then insert instruments to repair the tear.
  • Partial meniscectomy: With partial meniscectomy, the surgeon will trim away the damaged tissue. Soon after surgery, you will typically have a full range of motion and should be able to bear weight.
  • Meniscus repair: Your surgeon may be able to repair a torn meniscus by stitching the torn pieces together. Recovery time for this procedure is usually longer than it is for meniscectomy.

Learn more about meniscus surgery here.

How long does it take to recover from meniscus tear surgery?

How long it takes to recover from meniscus tear surgery will depend on the type of surgery. If the surgeon is able to repair the tear, it may take around 4–6 weeks for you to recover. Recovery can include using crutches and not bearing weight.

If the surgeon removes the torn part of the meniscus, it may only be a few days until you can start to bear weight again.

Your surgeon will provide a rehabilitation plan to help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible. It is vital to follow this advice to prevent slow healing or further injury.

Learn more about recovering from torn meniscus surgery here.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

When you first experience a torn meniscus, you may experience a “popping” sensation. Other symptoms of a meniscus tear may include:

  • pain when the knee is straight
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • a clicking or locking sensation
  • a weak or unstable feeling in the knee

These symptoms can be common in a range of knee conditions. Contact your doctor for a diagnosis.

What causes a meniscus tear?

A traumatic meniscus tear typically occurs when the body turns too quickly while the foot remains in position. As the knee turns more quickly than the lower leg, this can cause the meniscus to become torn.

A degenerative meniscus tear happens when the meniscus wears down over time. This typically happens later in life as a result of general wear and tear.

Who is at risk of a meniscus tear?

A traumatic meniscus tear is most likely to occur among athletes and people who regularly play sports. Types of sports that can increase your risk of a meniscus tear include:

  • soccer
  • football
  • rugby
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • skiing
  • wrestling

Additionally, if you are in the military, you have an increased risk of experiencing a torn meniscus. In fact, around 8.7 in every 1,000 active-duty military personnel experience a tear in the meniscus at some point.

A torn meniscus is also more likely if you are over the age of 40 years, do a lot of bending down or squatting, or have a history of anterior cruciate ligament tears.

Children can also have a torn meniscus. However, it is less likely to occur if the child is under 10 years of age.

How do doctors diagnose meniscus tears?

To diagnose a torn meniscus, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and arrange a series of diagnostic tests. These tests can include:

  • Movement tests: Your doctor will move your leg and knee in different directions to identify the location of the tear. They may also ask you to walk and perform squats.
  • Imaging tests: An MRI scan will provide a picture of the soft tissue to display the meniscus tear. Your doctor may also arrange for an X-ray to rule out any other conditions that may be causing your knee pain.
  • Arthroscopy: During an arthroscopic procedure, a surgeon will make a small incision in your knee and insert a small camera. This provides a detailed picture of your knee so that the surgeon can see a torn meniscus.

What are the complications of an untreated meniscus tear?

If you do not receive treatment for a torn meniscus, it may become worse over time. You may also be at risk of degenerative knee arthritis due to progressive meniscus loss.

Contact your doctor if you experience any symptoms of a torn meniscus. They will be able to diagnose the injury and advise on the best course of treatment.

FAQs

Below are some more questions that people commonly ask about a torn meniscus.

What aggravates a torn meniscus?

Your torn meniscus may become aggravated due to activities that involve twisting or pivoting your knee. Avoid any sports or activities that put excess pressure on your knee.

Should you stay off a torn meniscus?

It is generally OK to walk on a torn meniscus, though you may benefit from using crutches to help alleviate some of the pressure. However, if pain increases, try to rest your knee as much as possible and avoid bearing too much weight on it.

Does a torn meniscus hurt constantly?

A torn meniscus does not typically hurt constantly, and you may be able to walk without experiencing any severe pain. However, you may find that your knee hurts more during certain activities or when sitting in certain positions.

Will a knee brace help a torn meniscus?

You may choose to wear a knee brace to help you avoid any unnecessary twisting or bending of the knee. However, a brace will not help treat the condition.

Summary

A torn meniscus is a common knee injury among athletes, military personnel, and people who frequently need to bend down or squat.

A traumatic meniscus tear occurs when you turn your knee too quickly. This means that the cushioning between the thighbone and shinbone becomes torn, reducing the ability of your knee to function properly.

You may also experience a degenerative meniscus tear. This typically occurs in later life as a result of general wear and tear.

You may be able to treat your meniscus tear at home by resting and icing your knee. Your doctor may also recommend corticosteroid injections or surgery to help with healing. You should still be able to walk with a torn meniscus, though you may need to rest your knee following surgery.

Contact your doctor if you experience any symptoms of a torn meniscus. They will be able to carry out diagnostic tests and advise on the best treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
Last Review Date: 2022 May 29
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