Is It OK to Run with Knee Meniscus Tear?

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If it is small and doesn’t bother you at all, it can be OK to run with a meniscus tear. However, this is something you can discuss with your doctor, because mismanaging your healing may worsen your issue and even escalate the damage to the surrounding tissues – most likely – ligaments. Now, ligament injuries can disrupt the stability of your knee and you definitely want to avoid that. 

Even before talking to your doctor, you can ask yourself several questions. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, you should definitely forget about running for some time until your injury heals:

  1. Does your knee feel unstable?
  2. Is your range of motion limited in your knee?
  3. Does the pain increase with physical activity?
  4. Is your knee visibly swollen/red?

All these signs suggest that your meniscus is not in a good shape and that adding more stress, like running, to it may make the injury much worse. However, any definite conclusions can be made only by your doctor after a clinical examination of your knee.

What Is Meniscus Tear?

Between your thigh and leg bone, you have two rubbery cartilage pads. Both of these are called meniscus. One is on the outer side of your knee and one on the inner side of your knee. You might have heard of a meniscus tear lateral or medial. The lateral tear is the tear on the outer meniscus, while the medial means the medial meniscus is torn. 

Your meniscus is there to absorb shocks, improve lubrication between your thigh bone and your leg bone, and distribute pressure evenly between those two bones. A meniscus can tear during a sudden knee movement, especially if your knee is carrying weight at that time and you rotate the upper part of your leg while fixating the lower part in a steady position.

While injuries are the most common causes of a meniscus tear, there are also degenerative processes that can cause this cartilage to break. Sometimes, it can be a combination of an overuse injury and trauma.

What are Meniscus Tear Signs?

Some clear meniscus tear signs are:

  • knee pain localized at the outside or inside of the knee
  • swelling that sometimes isn’t in the same area as the pain you are feeling
  • pain when squatting or performing twisting motions
  • knee instability
  • Locking is also possible

Do not exclude the possibility of a meniscus tear even if you are able to continue walking, running, or playing sports. In many cases, a meniscus tear will allow further movement, especially if the tear is small.

What Are Meniscus Tear Types?

There are several types of a Meniscus tear in knee:

Radial – A tear in the part of the meniscus that doesn’t receive blood. This means it can’t heal spontaneously. This is a common tear that needs surgery if it’s severe. In case of surgery, the surgeon will trimm the damaged part of the meniscus.

Horizontal – This type of tear can be sewn back together. The closer the tear is to the side of the knee the better the results. The need for surgery also depends on how bad the tear is.

Flap – This tear causes catching. A strange feeling of having a small obstacle in your knee when you bend and flex the knee. If surgery is necessary the flap is usually cut away, which takes care of your pain or discomfort.

Bucket handle – This tear causes blocking of the knee. It’s similar to a horizontal tear but significantly bigger. This tear needs surgery so you can regain the use of your knee.

Complex – A combination of two or more tear types, not common. Surgery doesn’t help in this case. Doctors will remove meniscus only in extreme cases.

Incomplete – This tear generally happens due to degeneration; mainly smoking or old age. This tear doesn’t require surgery.

Do not try to diagnose the type and the severity of your meniscus tear on your own. This is a task for a medical professional.

How to Test for Meniscus Tear?

Only a doctor should test for meniscus tear. They might start with asking you some questions about your injury or your lifestyle, and ask you to squat with your toes pointed outwards if you are not experiencing severe pain. They will inspect your leg looking for popping sounds, and perform McMurray or the Thelassy test.

The McMurray test is somewhat limited in accuracy:

The same goes for the Thelassy test:

The only certain way to diagnose a meniscus tear is to do proper imaging of your knee. Your doctor may advise Xrays, CT scans or an MRI.

What is the Best Treatment for a Meniscus Tear?

Then you can do the following things to rehabilitate.

  • Rest your knee and elevate it when you are seated or lying down.
  • Ice the knee at intervals in case of swelling.
  • Stretch and train your legs, as far as possible, to take pressure off your knees.
  • Use an elastic bandage or an elastic brace to compress and support your knee.
  • If you need pain medication, use something anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.
  • Avoid high-impact activities that involve running or jumping. Walking down a hill or flight of stairs is also stressful for your knees.
  • Look into therapies that can promote your healing process. Physical therapy or red light therapy are some examples.
  • Start exercising again slowly, especially if it involves running, jumping, or squatting.

Can Meniscus Tear Heal on Its Own?

If the outer part of your meniscus receives a good blood supply which means it can heal on its own. However, the deeper inside the tear is, the less likely it will heal on its own, due to the lack of blood necessary for healing. It may stop hurting and everything may seem entirely normal to you, but it doesn’t mean that the meniscus has necessarily healed. 

If your knee locks at any point, you will most probably need surgery. The same goes if your symptoms don’t disappear within 6 to 8 weeks. 

Talk to your doctor for a referral to a good physical therapist that can help you with your rehab for meniscus tear. 

If you want to try and speed up your recovery, you may want to consider a portable red light therapy device. In that way, you can use it whenever you want without having to go to a special facility for your red light therapy session. Red light therapy supports multiple kinds of tissue regeneration and promotes circulation, which is essential for healing.