Recovering from any knee surgery is a delicate process. Movements of the knee, one of most intricate joints in the body, play an essential role in many everyday actions. Most people rarely think of these motions until they cannot complete them. Recovery from surgical repair of the lateral meniscus requires an extensive period of physical therapy. A full return to regular activity or sports will take time and care.
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Recovering After Surgery
Tearing a meniscus isn't an injury to be taken lightly: it's serious enough to put a professional football player out of commission permanently, if the damage is bad enough. The meniscus is the smooth lining that covers the bone and allows the knee joint to slide smoothly. When the meniscus is damaged, bone wears through and causes even more damage inside, grinding bone on bone and causing the joint to degenerate quickly. Surgery can repair the meniscus and minimize injury.
If surgery is performed, follow proper recovery procedures. As soon as you come out of surgery, start following the I.C.E. procedure: Ice, Compress, Elevate. Place an ice pack covered with a towel on the knee that had repair surgery. Compress with an ace bandage or pressure stocking. Elevate the swollen knee to at least your hip level and preferably above the level of your heart. Throughout your recovery, these three steps will remain your most useful tools. At the first sign of any strain, even after you've made a complete recovery, follow the I.C.E. procedure to prevent swelling and minimize tissue damage.
Physical therapy represents the most important stage of recovering from your lateral meniscus repair surgery. Your doctor will assign you a physical therapy regimen and it is imperative that you follow it. Often, the surgeon will have a physical therapist (P.T.) on-site, or be able to refer you to one who works with her patients. Begin physical therapy as soon as possible and continue it religiously until you're released by the doctor. Many knee surgery patients make the huge mistake of stopping their therapy before they are released. P.T.'s are trained to have you make the best recovery possible. If you want to regain full use of your knee and freedom from pain, you can't afford to make the error of leaving your P.T.'s care. Follow all the P.T.'s instructions, both in office and out.
Physical therapy will begin with simple quadricep exercises: tighten your quad muscles, hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat until fatigue sets in. As the quad begins to re-engage post surgery, the P.T. will add leg lifts, curls, and balancing exercises to your schedule. Eventually, you will use weight machines to increase strength in the quads and in the knee muscles. Physical therapy usually lasts at least 12 weeks post-operatively.
Once you've returned to most of your normal activity, take precautions against re-injuring the knee. Your meniscus has been repaired, but the knees are notorious for re-injury. Even with the best physical therapy, your knee can be less stable after lateral meniscus knee repair surgery.
When you resume your daily routine, pay careful attention to your pain levels. If you feel strain or discomfort, stop whatever activity you're doing. If there's any swelling, immediately apply the I.C.E. procedure. Call your doctor if swelling or pain persists beyond 24 hours. In addition, if you resume sports or other strenuous activity, it's best to wear a support brace on the knee that had surgical repair for additional support. Remember, repairing the meniscus does not erase the injury as if it had never happened. Proper care of the joint will ensure the best possible outcome.