Meniscal injuries can happen at any time and quite frankly, they can happen to anyone. There is a slight misconception that only athletes and active people are at risk for major knee injuries. This is unequivocally not true, as anyone is at risk to meniscus injuries regardless of their level of activity.
You can suffer a meniscus injury doing some of the most basic human movements. Squatting, jumping and even climbing up and down stairs. Injuries of this kind happen all the time and sometimes they’re quite serious.
Upon evaluation from a physician or orthopaedist, if the meniscus injury is deemed severe surgery is often the only viable option.
The prognosis remains the same for active and sedentary individuals. We’re going to take a look at what you can expect before and after surgery. We will be covering prehab, rehab and overall return to activity.
Pre-operative rehab is a mechanism used by physical therapists all over the world. Simply put it is a set protocol a patient undergoes in order to prepare themselves, and more specifically the injured part of their body, for the surgery. Pre-operative rehab can be done for any joint from the hip to the ankle or shoulder. It all depends on the patient's prognosis and the specific surgery they will be getting done.
Pre-operative rehab may be a combination of resistance exercises, mobility work and cardiovascular training. Load management is carefully monitored in order to prevent any worsening of the symptoms or the development of new injuries.
In the case of the knee, a general protocol is followed for the entire joint. Regardless whether it's an anterior cruciate ligament injury or meniscus injury or both. A basic overview to follow is the following:
1. Reinforce Extension Without Hurting the Joint. IE. Strengthen the Quadriceps
Our go to exercise: SUPINE TERMINAL KNEE EXTENSIONS
Laying on your back, place a rolled up towel directly below your knee. With your leg extended to about 75 degrees, proceed to straighten and fully extend your knee and apply a direct force into the towel. Hold for 2-3 secs and release. Repeat this for 3 sets of 20 reps.
2. Strengthen Knee Flexion. IE. Work Your Hamstrings!
Our go to exercise: PRONE BAND RESISTANT LEG CURLS
Tie a theraband or resistance band to a secure anchor. Create a circle loop around the anchor by tying the band onto itself. Laying on your stomach with your head furthest away from the anchor, hook your heels into the resistance band flexing your knees to about 60 degrees. Now further flex your knees past 90 degrees, hold for one second and slowly release it back to the starting position. Repeat this for 3 sets of 20 reps.
3. Don’t Forget Your Glutes!
Our go to exercises: BAND RESISTED ABDUCTIONS AND DONKEY KICKS.
The glutes are quite often forgotten when it comes to the knees but they play a pivotal role in knee stability during gait
Laying on your side, tie a resistance band around your ankles. Remain in that position and proceed to lift your top leg and hold for 2 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps per leg.
For the Donkey kicks, lay on your stomach and bend your right leg at the knee. Keep your lower back as neutral as possible, proceed to kick your right heel by raising your thigh off the ground. Repeat this for 3 sets and 10 reps and then switch sides.
All in all, pre operative rehabilitation is aimed at putting the patient in the best position possible to make a full and successful recovery after his or her surgery. However, during cute cases such as accidents or time sensitive complications due to injury pre-operative rehabilitation isn’t always an option. In those cases your rehabilitation program or protocol needs to be of the highest standard to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient.
How Long Does it Take to Recover?
How long is a piece of rope? No, seriously there isn’t a definitive time frame for your recovery. That’s simply because everyone’s injury will be different. But in physiological terms depending on the severity you’re looking at anywhere between 12-20 weeks for a full recovery. Again, this depends on your individual approach. Of which a major factor is post-operative rehabilitation.
Regarding rehab after a meniscus operation, there are loads of free pdfs from reputable websites available online. What we want to focus on is the other side of the coin. Namely the things that the professionals rarely warn you about… Okay, that sounded way too serious and maybe a bit morbid. Let’s rephrase, we will cover the info that they usually don’t prepare you for after a knee operation.
Now, yes your post operative experience will largely depend on the type of surgery you had and the severity of your initial injury. But for the sake of not getting too technical or complex, we’re going to generalize and cover the majority of issues you will face after a knee surgery or procedure.
So there is a few topics we want to address when it comes to post-operative rehab:
As you can see none of the above mentioned topics have anything to do with medical conditions, physiology or fancy terminology. That’s because the physiological aspect, in most cases, tends to be quite straight forward. If you follow the rehabilitation protocol as prescribed your injury will heal. But that all depends on all the above. Without a thorough understanding coupled with successful implementation of the above factors you’re stacking the odds of recovery against yourself.
The reality is that rehabilitation of any kind is a tough nut to crack. It’s by no means easy. Meaning you need to be realistic regarding your expectations because overestimating or underestimating your ability to fully recover can lead to delays or even re-injury. By communicating with your physical therapist or your surgeon and having regular check ups can ensure you don’t misjudge your progress. If you aren’t in a position to afford a physical therapist, take the conservative approach. In this case baby steps win the race.
A key benefit of having regular check ups or communicating with your medical team is developing a timeline. The feedback is necessary to advise you whether you’re on track to make a full recovery in the proposed time frame.
And now for the most important aspect of the post-operative rehabilitation process. Consistent commitment. That’s it. Put all the physiological aspects aside, the exercise and therapeutic parts at the core of it all you have consistent commitment. Without which you cannot have a successful recovery. Your ability to endure will be tested beyond what you can ever imagine.
Especially when you’re an athlete or a part time sports person, you’re used to progress and a certain level of physical ability, the rehab process is extremely daunting. You’re going to be tested to the point where you will question whether it’s all worth it.
And it is. Trust us. Once you’re through it, you will be stronger physically and mentally for it. That’s it. There is no secret trick or tactic. Consistent commitment and you will make it out in the end.