A Stronger Knee After Meniscectomy

After a blow to the knee or sudden twist, especially in sports, a torn or damaged meniscus is common. However, meniscus tears can also happen due to general wear and tear. The meniscus is a crescent-shaped cartilage in the knee designed to help with shock absorption. Sometimes, a tear can cause knee pain, stiffness, and weakness. While some tears heal naturally, severe cases require total meniscectomy to improve knee function. Patients hope to have a more robust, pain-free knee after surgery. Achieving this requires some additional care during the recovery process.

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What happens during total meniscectomy?

There are several ways a meniscus can tear. Sometimes, the tear can cause a flap that catches in the knee with movement. Other fragments can hamper the knee’s range of motion (ROM), limiting even simple activities like walking. A total meniscectomy seeks to remove part or all of the menisci, usually arthroscopically. First, the patient is placed under general anesthesia. Then the surgeon makes 2-3 small incisions in strategic parts of the knee. The scope goes through an incision so the doctor can see the damage. Other surgical tools are inserted in the 2 incisions to clear debris and remove part or all of the menisci. Outpatient surgery means the patient can leave the same day and begin recovery.

Why ROM is important

As the knee is a major joint, proper movement requires full range of motion. In other words, an individual should be able to bend the knee from a straight leg through the natural mechanics of the joint. A full ROM allows walking, running, lifting, and turning. More importantly, the knee can support the upper body’s weight and the lower body's impact. Poor ROM means poor movement, which ultimately leads to sedentary lifestyles. Studies show that a lack of exercise often leads to lifestyle disorders and a lower lifespan. After a meniscectomy, the goal is to strengthen the knee and restore ROM as best as possible.

Exercise matters

Strengthening the knee and improving ROM start well before surgery. If both parties agree to surgery, the doctor will recommend physical therapy (PT) for several weeks before the meniscectomy. These exercises will focus on extending, bending, and strengthening the knee. Common examples include heel pumps, lunges, leg raises, and extensions. Exercise also ensures the knee is prepared for surgery and makes recovery easier. The exercises will improve function and may even strengthen the knee after a full recovery.

Balancing rest and movement

During the first 2 weeks after a total meniscectomy, rest plays a crucial role in recovery. After that, there will be pain and swelling thanks to inflammation. Keeping the knee stable and using pain medication as directed can prepare the knee for therapy. However, therapists do not recommend long periods of rest. Applying gentle movement and loads that increase in intensity helps the joint. Opting for too much rest over activity can cause stiffness, reduce ROM, and deplete muscle mass. Even after recovery, move every 30 minutes to improve circulation and reduce inflammation.

Stretching leads to strength

Knee strength not only comes from increasing muscle but improving flexibility. Integrating other movements that enhance knee flexibility can help the knee stay stronger for longer. Yoga and Pilates, for instance, are helpful activities to boost flexibility, ROM, and movement. On rest days, using a foam roller around the knee lengthens the muscle, improving elasticity and reducing pain.

Don’t stop at total meniscectomy

Moving forward with a meniscectomy is a fantastic option for those with a damaged meniscus. However, the surgery clears up the debris or removes the torn cartilage. The patient still needs to work on strengthening the knee. Increasing the range of motion involves strategic exercises and recovery techniques recommended by a physician or physical therapist. Applying the suggested movements consistently will lead to a stronger knee. Along with these exercises, maintain a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and focus on stress management to live a longer, more active life.

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