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Foot & Ankle

How To Heal a Torn Meniscus Naturally

A torn meniscus is a knee injury that can heal naturally in various ways. Multiple studies have found that non-surgical torn meniscus treatments give similar results as surgical options. 

The natural recovery of a torn meniscus depends on the location, severity, and size of the tear. If these factors are checked, you’d need to strengthen your muscles through physical therapy, have a better diet, and practice PRICE (defined below) to recover from the tear.

What is a Torn Meniscus?

Your leg has two types of bones: femur and tibia. The femur is the thigh bone and the tibia is the shinbone (lower leg). 

Both of these bones join to make up your knee joint. Your knee joint consists of two cushioned menisci, which are c-shaped cartilage pieces sitting between your femur and tibia. 

The menisci serve as the shock absorbers to protect your knee joint from sudden wear and tear. You can tear your meniscus if you do activities or sports involving twisting, rotating, and turning the knee. 

Types of Meniscus Tears

The most common types of meniscus tears are:

Radial Tear

It is a common meniscus tear that occurs within the meniscus area. In this area, the blood supply is pretty low, making it difficult for the tear to heal quickly. Typically, radial tears require surgical treatments that include removing the affected part of the meniscus. 

Horizontal Tear

A horizontal tear requires immediate meniscus repairs. During the treatment, the damaged area of the meniscus is sewn together instead of removed.

Complex Tear

A complex tear involves a combination of different tears, such as radial and horizontal tears. Since these tears are complex, your surgeon won’t recommend treating them with meniscus repair or removal. 

Intrasubstance Tear

An intrasubstance tear is a sign of early degenerative damage in the meniscus that doesn’t show up at the time of surgery. However, they’re found easily on an MRI report. Such tears are considered stable and usually don’t require surgery to heal.

Bucket-handle Tear

It is a severe form of a horizontal tear that makes the knee movement almost impossible. In the bucket-handle tear, the torn meniscus causes the knee to get stuck, making it challenging for you to bend your leg. These tears require surgical treatments to heal.

Flap Tear

A flap tear, also called a displaced flap, results from a horizontal tear. Flap tears are divided into two categories: superior interior. 

Superior flap tears occur on the upper meniscus surface and inferior flap tears on the lower surface. The treatment for flap tears involves the removal of the meniscus flap without interfering with the entire tissue.

The type of your meniscus tear determines the nature of the treatment and recovery duration. 

How to Know If You Have a Torn Meniscus? 

How to Know If You Have a Torn Meniscus?

The primary sign of a torn meniscus is severe inflammation in your knee joint accompanied by aching pain. Other symptoms to look for are:

  • Swelling of the knee area
  • Frequent popping and clicking sensations
  • Unstable knee
  • Restricted motion range of the knee
  • Knee locks

If you feel most of the above symptoms, immediately consult your doctor to get your knee condition diagnosed. 

Treatments for Torn Meniscus Without Surgery

Torn meniscus treatments primarily focus on reducing your pain and inflammation to help you get back to normal. Here is how to heal a torn meniscus naturally:

PRICE

This is the first-hand treatment for a torn meniscus, which is short for:

  • Protect: This means preventing the possible causes of a torn meniscus (sports) or walking with crutches to shield your knee. 
  • Rest: This could mean resting on the bed or walking with crutches to distribute the pressure on your knees. Resting allows the injury to heal naturally, without any surgery.
  • Ice: Icing, or cryotherapy, relieves the inflammation in your body, reducing the swelling and pain simultaneously. 
  • Compress: Compression therapy involves inflammation management by helping the veins return blood from your injury point through stockings, bandages, or knee sleeves. 
  • Elevate: It means elevating your affected leg to regulate blood flow from accumulating around your knee joint. For this, you’d need to lie down straight and put a pillow or two under your knee. Elevation may have similar benefits as compression and icing.

PRICE treatment gives instant and effective stages when done in the early stages of your injury. The quicker you lower your inflammation and swelling, the faster you can heal.

Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications

Taking pain and anti-inflammatory medicines with PRICE in the initial days of your injury gives you better results. However, your doctor may ask you to continue them for longer based on your tolerance levels and healing condition. 

The two common types of medicines for treating a torn meniscus are:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicine: These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil and Tylenol, and acetaminophen. 
  • Prescription Drugs: These primarily include corticosteroids or other pain and swelling-relieving narcotics. But of course, you can’t use prescription drugs on your own and require your doctor’s approval. 

Typically, your doctor would recommend OTC medicines before prescription drugs for pain and swelling relief.

Physical Therapy

Physical exercises are the best way to build muscles and regain body balance. In addition, studies have shown that resistance training can strengthen your connective tissues, such as ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.

The key to achieving success with your physical therapy is to start gradually and then intensify the routine as your stamina builds up. The best exercises are isometric, which include contracting your muscles while keeping your joint still. 

Some exercises to focus on to heal a torn meniscus naturally are:

  • For Your Quads: Put a rolled towel under your knees and try to exert force on it. The towel will keep your knees in a bent position and prevent movement.
  • For your hamstrings: Follow the same position as your quads, but put slight downward pressure on your heel.
  • Calf Raises: Place a chair or table in front of you at a distance from where you can touch it with your fingers. Now, stand tall on your tippy-toes with feet shoulder-width apart. Stay still for 3-5 seconds and gradually lower your body down.

You can also have a comprehensive exercise plan from your physical therapist.

Nourishment

Lastly, you need to include some anti-inflammatory and wound-healing nutrients in your diet. These nutrients build the necessary collagen your body requires to rebuild damaged cartilage or meniscus.

Ensure that your diet includes:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Silicon
  • Protein
  • Omega-3s
  • Boron
  • Arginine/citrulline
  • Inositol
  • Creatine
  • Fiber

Orthobiologic Treatment

This natural cell-based therapy alleviates pain, regenerates cells, and enhances the function of the knee joint. It is a minimal, low-risk alternative to surgeries that shortens recovery times and reduces associated risks.

In an orthobiologic treatment, regenerative cells are collected from the inflamed bone marrow and blood. These cells are observed in a laboratory under advanced technology. Then, they are injected in the knee joint. 

These cells repair and regenerate the inflamed tissues of your knee. Over time, you’ll feel less pain and improvement in your mobility. Orthobiologic treatments are suitable for meniscus tears that don’t involve knee locking. 

How Long Does it Take for a Meniscus Tear to Heal Naturally?

A minor meniscus tear could take about 4 weeks to heal naturally. However, it may take up to 12 weeks to recover fully in severe cases. 

Generally, you can heal more quickly and effectively from a torn meniscus if you’re consistent with your exercises and diet routine.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Regenerative Orthopedic and Sports Medicine
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan State University Alumni

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