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Knee Strengthening Exercises for Meniscal Tears

What are Meniscal Tears?

A meniscal tear is a tear that occurs in the cartilage of the knee. The meniscus is a small, "C" shaped piece of cartilage in the knee joint. Each knee has two menisci, the medial meniscus on the inner aspect of the knee and the lateral meniscus on the outer aspect of the knee. The medial and lateral menisci provide a cushion between the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia) and act as shock absorbers to stabilize the knee joint. 

Meniscal tears are one of the most common injuries to the knee joint. They can occur at any age, but are more common in athletes playing contact sports. A sudden bend or twist in your knee can cause the meniscus to tear. Elderly people are more prone to degenerative meniscal tears as the cartilage wears out and weakens with age. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling, stiffness, or catching or locking sensation in your knee, making you unable to move your knee through its complete range of motion. 

Knee Strengthening Exercises for Meniscal Tears

Exercising may perhaps be the last thing on your mind to do when your knees are stiff and painful. Nevertheless, exercise is a significant part of treatment of meniscal tears to help ease pain and keep you active. Knee strengthening exercises play a crucial role to restore normal knee function and improve flexibility and strength by specifically targeting joints and muscles of the knee for better management of meniscal tears pain. Here are some exercises that are designed to stretch, strengthen, and stabilize your knee.

  • Half squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and stretch your arms out in front of you. Slowly bend your knees into a half-sitting posture until your kneecap is directly over your big toe. Keep your chest lifted and back straight without leaning forward. Hold the position for five seconds and then slowly stand back up with your feet firmly on the floor.
  • Heel raise: Stand firmly on the floor. Hold the back of a chair or place your hands on the wall for support. Slowly lift your heels a few inches off the ground and rise up on the toes of your both feet. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and gently lower both the heels to the floor. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Bridges: Lie down flat on your back on the floor. With bent knees and feet firmly on the floor, rest your palms down near your hips. Now, lift your buttocks as high as possible with a straight back and slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Do 5 sets of 20 repetitions. This exercise works on the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, gluteal muscles, and lower back.
  • Lunges: Stand straight with your feet hip-width distance apart. Step forward and anchor on the front foot and bend the back knee towards the floor, but do not let it touch. Keep your back straight and maintain both knees at 90 degrees. Do not let the front knee move forwards past your toes. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions with the injured leg behind and repeat the same with the injured leg in front. Gradually increase the sets and repetitions to your tolerance level.
  • Straight leg raises to the front: Lie on your back on the floor with your legs fully extended in front of you. Bend the knee of your uninjured leg and position the foot flat on the ground. Now, tighten the thigh muscle of your injured leg and lift the leg about 10 inches off the floor. Maintain your leg straight, hold for 5 seconds, and lower your leg down slowly to the floor. Do two sets of 15 repetitions and increase gradually.
  • Straight leg raises to the back: Lie flat on your belly with your legs extended straight behind you. Place your folded arms below your head and rest your forehead on your arms. Draw your stomach in towards your spine and stiffen your belly muscles. Now, tighten the thigh muscles and buttocks of the affected leg and lift the leg off the floor about 8 inches backward. Hold this position for 5 seconds with your leg held straight and slowly lower your leg to the floor. Do 2 sets of 15 repetitions.
  • Wall squat with a ball: Stand with your head, shoulder, and back against the wall. Keep your feet about 12 inches from the wall and shoulder's width apart. Place a basketball or soccer-sized ball behind your back. Maintaining your back firmly against the wall, gently bring your back down to an angle of 45-degree. Hold this posture for 10 seconds and slowly slide back up the wall. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Step-ups: Stand in front of a step of stairs. Hold onto the railings for balance if needed. Set your left foot on the step of stairs. Stiffen your left thigh muscle and step up, touching your right foot onto the step. Hold your muscles stiff as you slowly lower your right foot. Touch the ground and lift again. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions and switch legs after every set.
  • Heel slides: This exercise is an excellent way to improve your knee flexion. Lie flat on your back on the floor with legs stretched out in front of you. Gently slide the heel of your injured leg up towards your hips, allowing your knee to bend as far as possible. Slowly slide back your heel to the straight-knee position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions and gradually increase to more sets and repetitions.
  • Passive knee extension: Lie on your back on the floor with legs fully extended in front of you. Place a rolled-up towel below the heel of your injured side to position the heel about 6 inches off the floor level. Straighten your knee and relax your leg muscles and hold this posture for about 2 minutes. Relax for a few seconds and repeat 3 times. You can also do this exercise while sitting on a chair with your heel extended on another stool or chair.
  • Stationary bike: Riding a stationary bike is a significant part of knee meniscus tear exercise program. Stationary bike exercise utilizes smooth movements to strengthen knee muscles and joints without adding much stress or strain on them. It improves muscular endurance and range of motion of the knee. Your physician will determine the amount of time you need to ride based on your knee condition.
  • Leg extension: This is a very simple and effective exercise that can be performed while sitting in a chair. Position yourself on a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Slowly extend the injured leg upwards until it is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and slowly release the leg to its starting position. Do 10 repetitions of 2 to 3 sets and switch legs.
  • Hamstring curls: Lie flat on your belly with your legs extended straight behind you. Place your folded arms below your head and rest your forehead on your arms. Now, gently bend the knee of your affected leg towards your hips and slowly lower your leg back down to the ground. Do 10 to 15 repetitions of 2 to 3 sets.

Summary

A meniscus tear is a worrisome and painful injury that can affect your activities of daily living and work and prevent you from enjoying your usual recreational activities. By working with your physician and physical therapist and participating in active exercise programs, you can safely and swiftly return back to your optimal activity level and function.

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • AAHKS
  • UCI School of Medicine, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Orange