A torn meniscus is a common knee injury, but also one that can heal naturally depending on the location, size, and severity of the tear. In this article, we’ll be discussing ways to help heal a torn meniscus without surgery, as well as when to give in to the arthroscope.
What Is a Torn Meniscus?
Your knee joint is cushioned by two menisci, which are crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage that sit between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone) and act as shock absorbers, protecting your bones and joints from wear and tear. If you happen to forcefully rotate, twist, or turn your knee, such as with contact sports like soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, or tennis—imagine an abrupt stop and pivot—you can tear a meniscus.
As we age, our menisci weaken, setting older athletes up for more injuries. In fact, over 40% of adults over age 65 have a degenerative meniscus tear. Older adults in general are more vulnerable to meniscus tears due to a gradual degeneration (wearing away) of cartilage.
Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus
While you may be able to play through the pain, rest assured that once inflammation makes its way to the site of the injury, you won’t be able to ignore torn meniscus symptoms:
- A pop
- A locked or stuck knee
It’s important not to diagnose a knee injury on your own. Whenever you feel knee pain, a visit to an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine physician is called for. Your doctor will start with a physical examination to determine the source of the injury, and then follow up with imaging tests. X-rays help rule out other possible sports injuries, such as broken bones, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a better view of the soft tissue of your knee.
Type of Tears That Can Heal Without Surgery
Meniscal tears caused by arthritis will typically resolve on their own alongside arthritis treatments. As for small tears, the “red zone” is the outer part of the meniscus that has a good chance of healing due to adequate blood supply. The “white zone” includes the inner portions of the meniscus that don’t fare so well healing naturally. Blood vessels can’t reach the white zone as easily, which means the torn cartilage is cut off from oxygen-rich blood and nutrients that promote healing.
Non-surgical treatment—rest, ice, and medications—is the preferred treatment option whenever possible, but if pain persists after such rehabilitation measures, then surgical repair may be necessary.
If the knee locks, a telltale sign that a piece of broken cartilage has gotten stuck in the knee joint, then your doctor will likely recommend knee arthroscopy. During arthroscopic surgery, the meniscus is repaired, trimmed, or removed (either as a partial or total meniscectomy).
Help Your Meniscus Tear Heal Naturally
If your doctor sends you home to let your meniscus injury heal naturally, then you can count on the following tips to speed along a successful recovery.
We know it’s frustrating to take a break from activities you love, but getting back to those activities depends on taking the weight (literally) off your knee! Avoid any movement, especially those that involve rotation of the knee. Use crutches to give your injury the chance to heal.
Subdue the pain and swelling that accompany acute inflammation by icing your injury for 15 minutes at a time, 4-6 hours a day the first few days after trauma. Continue icing as needed.
Propping up the knee with a pillow under your heel when lying down or sitting also helps to reduce swelling and pain, bringing much needed relief to a meniscus tear.
Compress the knee with a knee sleeve or compression bandage to help control swelling and pain and speed recovery.
Anti-inflammatory NSAIDS such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can help provide relief and calm inflammation. They do, however, come with side effects and should be used sparingly.
6. Physical Therapy
Your doctor can help connect you to a physical therapist to help you strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your knee, such as your hamstring and quadriceps muscles.
Provide your injury with healing nutrients to accelerate wound healing and meniscus repair. These nutrients can help build the collagen your body needs to rebuild injured cartilage.
Eat foods rich in:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1 and K2
How Essential Amino Acids Can Heal a Torn Meniscus
Amino acids make up the proteins (like collagen) that build body tissues. Your body cannot make essential amino acids and depends on you to provide them through the foods you eat and the supplements you take. Essential amino acids replenish the collagen needed to rebuild injured cartilage, such as in the case of a meniscus tear.
Essential amino acids also help protect against muscle loss during periods of inactivity, like when you’re taking it easy and letting your meniscus heal. Numerous studies show that supplementing with essential amino acids stimulates muscle protein synthesis and protects against the loss of muscle mass and strength during immobilization. In doing so, these nutrients lead to better rehabilitation outcomes (1).
As for the inflammation that causes pain and swelling, well, essential amino acids take care of that too, preventing inflammation from slowing recovery. Inflammation increases muscle protein breakdown and contributes to muscle loss. As the building blocks of protein, essential amino acids help decrease protein breakdown and loss of muscle mass in the presence of acute inflammation (2).
Essential amino acids have also been shown to help patients heal after knee replacement surgery, a likely outcome of advanced degenerative arthritis. Taking essential amino acids a week before and at least 3 months after total knee replacement surgery has been proven to help speed recovery and help patients get back on their feet faster.
Witnessing the remarkable effects of essential amino acid supplementation on wound healing, surgical recovery, and injury rehabilitation, amino acid researchers developed the precise formula of amino acids to help you heal from an injury or surgery. This formula contains all the essential amino acids plus creatine, also found to help protect against muscle loss during immobilization. This patented formula has been clinically proven to:
- Promote healthy inflammation levels
- Stimulate muscle growth and repair 3 times more than any other protein source
- Preserve muscle mass during periods of bed rest and inactivity
- Improve physical strength and function 6 weeks after surgery or injury
This formula is only available from Amino Co scientists. If you have a meniscus tear you are attempting to heal naturally or surgically, you can speed recovery with Heal. Click here to learn more about this natural essential amino acid supplement.
Follow the Advice of Your Doctor
If left untreated, a meniscus tear can develop into osteoarthritis and even more serious complications over time. That’s why it is important to always follow the guidance of your doctor.
Although the recovery time from meniscus surgery is typically 4-6 weeks, the time it will take to heal a torn meniscus naturally varies according to the location and severity of the injury.
Do you have complete range of motion? Can you bend and straighten the leg? Are you free of pain when you walk and run? Has all the swelling subsided? Do you feel as strong in the injured knee as the uninjured? Then you are likely healed and ready to amp up your activity level. Follow-up with your doctor before jumping into that basketball game!