Knee exercises aren’t just necessary after injury, but to keep you from injury!
Intense exercises, such as running, can tear the meniscus which is a layer of cartilage in our knees. But there are certain knee range of motion exercises that can help.
Meniscus tear exercises may be exactly what you need once you’ve recovered from the acute phase of this injury!
Knee exercises aren’t just necessary after injury, but to keep you from injury!
I’ve been on the PT bandwagon since I realized it would keep me running injury free in 2007. Before that, I was running carefree, until my IT Band took me down for a few years.
Now I’m always doing something for hips and stability but, unfortunately, those don’t do much for stepping in a hole and twisting your body so that it tears your meniscus.
And so, in this article, I’ll be sharing the best meniscus tear exercises you can try at home, and also how to prevent a tear in the first place.
What is a Meniscus Tear?
To understand what a meniscus tear is, let’s first look at what a meniscus is anyway.
The meniscus is a cartilage layer in the knee that serves several functions. It makes sure that the knee joint fits together right, absorbs shock from walking and other activities, and keeps the knee stable.
A meniscus tear is an injury to one of the shock absorber bands of rubbery cartilage in the knee. Symptoms of it include pain, swelling, clicking, catching, locking, and knee weakness. If you can’t move your leg through a full range of motion that could indicate there is a flap preventing it.
When the foot is firmly planted on the ground and the knee is twisted suddenly, the meniscus can be torn. A tear can also develop gradually as the meniscus loses elasticity.
Overuse is typically the cause of meniscal tears in runners (specifically when we’re running with poor form). They can also be caused by a sudden injury.
Meniscal tears typically occur in degenerative menisci, but they can affect runners of any age. They typically affect people in their forties, but they can affect both young and old runners.
How to Heal a Meniscus Tear?
The type of tear and how bad it is determine how well the knee will heal and whether surgery will be necessary. But a torn meniscus is usually a common knee injury that may not need surgery to heal.
I did end up doing surgery and through the many discussions with Orthopedic surgeons learned that of all the surgeries this one is easier to come back from than most.
Physical therapy exercises that target the quadriceps and hamstrings, for example, can reduce stiffness and improve symptoms. Consult your doctor about possible surgical options if at-home remedies fail to relieve pain and discomfort.
Try these at-home exercises that I’ll share with you today to strengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion once you have recovered from the acute phase of a meniscus injury and have your doctor’s approval.
What are the Best Meniscus Tear Exercises?
If you’ve been around this site often, you’d know about my knee injury in the past.
full extension of my knee, I got an MRI which showed a slew of issues caused by trauma. I won’t rehash that here, you can read about my return to running after knee surgery here.
But what I learned in the process were some of the best and most simple exercises that you can do at home and don’t even need the gym!
I did 3 repetitions of these specific exercises every day until the knee was back to 100% and after that still include them as part of my ongoing routine.
The goal of these moves is to create stability, improve range of motion and create better patterns for long-term running.
These knee range of motion exercises are ideal for meniscus tears, but also exercises for recovery after almost any knee surgery including ACL and more.
Here is a short description of each move, but you can see them in action with full explanations in the video below.
Using a rolled-up towel or blanket, place it below the knee and work on pressing the knee cap down into it. For someone who can’t fully extend their knee like me right now, this is bizarrely hard!
Can be done sitting or lying on the floor. Flex your foot and slowly focus on dragging the heel towards your butt while keeping the knee in line with toes and then push back out.
45 Degree Lift
Laying on your back with one knee bent on the floor, raise your straightened leg only to the height of your other knee.
Ball Tension Smash
If you don’t like the foam roller, you really won’t like this one.
When injured our muscles contract trying to protect that area, but unfortunately causing more issues. Here I’m placing a ball in the meat of my calf to find a knot (a pain point), then holding it for 30 seconds and trying to relax.
After that continue to hold, but point and flex the foot 10 times. Then move on to the next awful spot.
Resistance Band March
Placing the looped band around your knee and the other end in a firmly shut door, bend knee then press back engaging your quad. Then engage the core to raise the other knee to 90 degrees and pause.
Resistance Band Pull
Sit on the floor and loop band around the foot, then scoot back until you’ve created tension on the leg. Try to relax and hold for 90 seconds, allowing space to be created in the joint.
A quadriceps set is an isometric exercise that strengthens the muscles in the front of the thighs.
Place your straight leg on the floor or a firm bed while seated. If your knee hurts in the front or back, put a small towel roll under your knee.
Press the back of your knee flat down to the floor to tighten the muscles on top of your thigh. Hold for approximately 6 seconds, then rest for up to 10 seconds.
Hamstring curls target your hamstrings, which are muscles at the backs of the thighs.
Straighten your knees while lying on your stomach. If you experience pain in the area above your kneecap, try placing a rolled-up towel there.
Raise the injured leg’s foot by bending the knee and bringing the foot toward the buttock. If this move hurts, try it without bending your knee quite as far. This could help you avoid moving in a way that hurts. Bring your leg back down to the floor slowly.
You might also want to consider putting a small cuff weight on your ankle with the approval of your physician or physical therapist. You don’t need to lift your leg higher than 10 inches when using weights to work your hamstrings.
Straight Leg Raises
Straight leg raises to strengthen the quadriceps while stretching the hamstrings.
Lie on your back with your left foot flat and your right leg extended. Flex the right foot and contract the right thigh muscles to raise the right leg slowly off the floor while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis.
After raising the right leg to a 45-degree angle, lower it back to the floor gradually. Do 3 repetitions on the right leg before switching to the left.
Mini squats can help strengthen the quadriceps, which are the large muscles on the front of the thigh, without putting undue stress on the knees.
Place your back, shoulders, and head against a wall. The feet should be shoulder-width apart and approximately one foot away from the wall.
Bend the knees slightly, bringing your hips toward the ground. Stop at approximately 15 degrees of the bend. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then slowly move back to the starting position while keeping the back and shoulders against the wall. It is essential to keep the back and shoulders against the wall to reduce knee stress.
If you test these out, let me know how things go! Your feedback helps me know what’s beneficial and of course know that while I do my research, I talk to lots of different doctors, physical therapists, and recovered runners, I’m not a doctor of any sort.
How to Prevent Meniscus Tear Injuries
Although meniscus tear is, unfortunately, a common injury, there are certain ways to reduce your risk of suffering from it:
Wear the Right Shoes
Wear shoes that fit well and have good padding. When you run, ill-fitting shoes affect the stress and weight distribution of your body as your feet strike the ground. This is a common reason why runners have meniscus tears.
Focus on Proper Running Form
Pay attention to proper running form. Your body can suffer harm from running improperly, especially your weight-bearing joints like the knees.
Cross-train to Reduce Risk of Injuries
Aside from running, you should consider cross-training. I recommend flexibility and resistance training with resistance bands as part of a training plan to strengthen your muscles.
Having strong and toned leg, thigh, gluteal, and abdominal muscles can help you run better and improve your speed.
Don’t Forget to Rest
Give your body as much time as possible to rest and recover, especially after increasing the intensity and duration of your training. After all, meniscus tears are often overuse injuries that can be avoided with the right level of rest and recovery.
Need more knee help?
- How to exercise with knee pain >>
- Best Running Shoes for Knee pain >>
- Ultimate Knee Pain Prevention Guide >>
- Knee taping for stability and pain relief>>
- 5 Knee Strengthening Exercises >>
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