How can you know when it is safe to return to sports or exercise after meniscus surgery? Is it possible to do too much too soon? This Ask Dr. Geier question addresses these concerns after one of the most common operations in orthopedic surgery – meniscus surgery, or specifically, partial meniscectomy.
I am a 29 year old male who went in for partial medial meniscectomy. My doctor said I could return to work after 2 and a half weeks which I did and my physio wanted me to try 200 meter jogs around the same time. I jogged on Sunday night but didn’t do a lot as it was hurting and returned to work Monday. By Tuesday (my work involves a lot of bending down) my knee had swollen up a little more and pain returned to my knee. Some of the pain was similar to that of when I had the original tear. My question is, is it more likely to tear a meniscus after partial meniscectomy or could this just be soreness from trying to do too much too early?
That is a terrific question. I also think it is a common concern for many active patients who undergo partial meniscectomy – trimming out a meniscus tear – surgery. If you ask many surgeons about the timing for the patient attempting to jog or play sports after these surgeries, I’d bet that you would get a wide variety of answers.
Return to physical activity and exercise after meniscus surgery
My answer to this question largely reflects my personal experience doing hundreds of these operations each year. Generally I recommend patients wait 4 to 6 weeks after partial meniscectomy before they try to jog or play a sport that involves repetitive impact on the knee.
It’s not that I’m worried that the patient would do further damage to the meniscus, although I suppose it’s possible. Unlike a meniscal repair surgery, though, there is no suture repair to heal.
I often hear from patients that do try to return very soon after surgery that their knees swell and ache. Many of them say that doing too much activity in the early weeks after surgery actually caused them to have a longer overall recovery.
Variables affecting return to exercise and sports
Much of the recovery and return to activity depends on the individual patient. If a patient has good knee motion and strength, it can be reasonable to try more aggressive activity and see how it goes. If the knee hurts after jogging a short distance or it swells, then he backs off. If he does well, then he can advance slowly as his knee improves.
I have done these partial meniscectomy surgeries on professional athletes, many of whom returned to sports within 3 to 4 weeks. Usually they admitted that they continued to improve and feel stronger the further out they got from surgery.
Plus any other damage the patient has in the knee could affect return to activity somewhat. An older patient with more wear and tear of the articular cartilage (arthritis changes) might need more time before trying to run than a college athlete with a pristine knee other than the meniscus tear.
Again, this post and answer do not provide specific medical advice. Anyone who has suffered a meniscus tear and undergoes partial meniscectomy or meniscal repair should ask his or her orthopedic surgeon about return to sports and exercise after meniscus surgery.
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