The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that helps with movement. It can become torn or injured in other ways, known as a meniscus injury. A meniscus injury is common among athletes and people who play sports.
I received a question from a personal trainer who has several clients with meniscal injury; she was looking for suggestions on program design and exercises.
There is a lot to consider regarding lower body injuries and exercises. I go through all kinds of activities for the lower body in the following courses:
Exercises Rehabilitation of the Knee
Balance Training for the Rehab Client
I will focus on key points to remember when strengthening the knee with a meniscus injury.
What Does the Meniscus Do?
Taking a step back, the menisci act to spread the load of the body’s weight and reduce friction during knee movement. When your client talks about “torn cartilage in the knee,” they often talk about meniscus.
5 Keys to Help Your Clients with a Meniscus Injury
Time Load on the Meniscus
Look at your client and see how much time they spend standing, walking, running, and exercising during the day. All these activities put a load on the meniscus, and if the meniscus is damaged, it will lead to inflammation. It is essential to load the meniscus, but the amount of time they load their meniscus needs to be monitored, and your client needs to address any inflammation they have.
Plus, a decrease in the load during the day on the meniscus will allow the meniscus to heal better and let your client do more during their exercise program when it comes to weight bearing and leg strengthening exercises.
Get on the Bike
Whatever your opinion is of the bike, the bike is excellent for strengthening the injured knee while putting a low load on the internal structures of the knee, like the meniscus.
Get your client on the bike to strengthen the muscle around the knee.
If your client has excessive pronation (flat feet) during gait, this will increase the medial load on the knee. If their cartilage issue is the medial meniscus, it will put more stress on their meniscus when doing day-to-day activities. You need to assess your client to see if this worsens the meniscus symptoms and slows their recovery.
Other Knee Strengthening Exercises
A lot of the joint exercises given for meniscus injury are hip flexion and hip extension exercises. This is important but does not address knee extension. Few activities that your client can do to strengthen the quadriceps:
In a supine position straightening the legs out against resistive tubing.
Changing Stance Width
The typically closed chain exercises like squats and lunges can be challenging for a client with meniscus issues. You can play around with the hip width that your client performs the exercises. Sometimes varying the distance between their feet will decrease the load on the injured area of the meniscus and allow them to perform the exercise.
I have to thank Barb for the question about meniscus injuries and exercises.
Let me know what you think of the post and if you have any tips for other fitness professionals on exercise and meniscus injuries.
Rick Kaselj, MS
Before I go, one last thing.
The picture above gives you an idea of how it looks on the knee.
1 = meniscus
2 = femur (thigh bone)
3 = tibia (shin bone)