Meniscus Repair Rehabilitation: Why Are We Still Stuck in the 90’s?

Today’s article is from my co-owner of Champion PT and Performance and co-author of, Lenny Macrina.  Lenny does a great job discussing some of the controversies surrounding postoperative progressions, specifically weight-bearing and range of motion, follow meniscus repair surgery.

Meniscus injuries within the knee are a common occurrence.  In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that meniscus surgery is the most frequent surgical procedure performed by orthopedic surgeons in the United States, with more than 50% of the procedures performed in patients 45 years of age or older.

Despite this high occurrence, many inconsistencies continue to exist in the rehabilitation of a patient following meniscus repair surgery, particularly involving the rate of weightbearing and range of motion.

I’m still shocked by this and wanted to discuss the recent research that is lending to a more progressive approach to return people safely back to their prior level of function.

Rehabilitation Follow Meniscus Repair

meniscus repair surgery weightbearingRehabilitation after surgical debridement of the meniscus is pretty straightforward. We return the patient’s range of motion, strength and function per their symptoms and let pain and swelling guide the rehab process (a very general guide but one often employed by many rehabilitation specialists).

However, when the meniscus is actually repaired and not just debrided, there are other factors to consider.  When a meniscus is repaired, the tear is approximated using stitches to allow the tear to heal.  

Rehabilitation following a meniscus repair has to be more conservative, however, despite research saying otherwise, there are still many rehabilitation protocols floating around the orthopaedic and sports medicine world that recommend limiting weight-bearing and range of motion after a meniscal repair.  We continue to ignore the literature because of fear that the ‘stress’ on the meniscus with walking and range of motion may be too high.

Unfortunately, many of these commonly used protocols are from the 1990’s. (The current protocols we use can be found at

So if we’re going to talk 90’s protocols, take a look at these studies from way back when from Shelbourne  and Barber  that showed excellent results in patients undergoing a combined ACL-meniscus repair procedure and utilizing no limitations in weightbearing or range of motion, similar to a protocol for an isolated ACL reconstruction.

Recent studies from VanderHave and Lind on isolated meniscus repairs have shown similar results using an “aggressive” program of immediate weightbearing compared to a more conservative approach.

I certainly wouldn’t consider these “aggressive” programs, they simply used immediate weightbearing and range of motion.

Again, these studies show meniscal repair outcomes are no different while using restricted weightbearing and range of motion versus an “aggressive” protocol of immediate weight-bearing and unlimited range of motion.

Early Weightbearing After Meniscus Repair

meniscus repair surgery range of motionBut what about the exact mechanisms that many are still fearful of allowing early in the process, like early walking and range of motion? Won’t that put the repair in a position to fail?

We typically immobilize people in full extension during weightbearing, locked in a brace for 4-6 weeks after meniscal repair surgery.

So, if immobilized in extension, why do we limit weightbearing?

During weightbearing, compressive forces are loaded across the menisci. These tensile forces create ‘hoop stresses’, which expand the menisci in extension. These hoop stresses are thought to be helping the healing process in many tears by approximating the tissue.

Furthermore, the compressive loads applied while weightbearing in full extension following a vertical, longitudinal repair or bucket-handle repair have been shown to reduce the meniscus and stabilize the tear, as noted by Rodeo  and more recently by McCulloch.

Early Range of Motion After Meniscus Repair

What about early range of motion?

There is very limited literature on the influences of range of motion on meniscal movement. Thompson showed that during flexion, the posterior excursion of the medial meniscus was 5.1 mm, while that of the lateral meniscus was 11.2 mm.

Looking at meniscal movement as the knee flexes in weightbearing and non-weightbearing you can see there’s less motion, although I really don’t think we know how much motion is detrimental. The motion has been shown to help improve blood flow to the area. This is huge and may aid in the healing process!meniscus biomechanics

What Do We Recommend?

Anecdotally, I can say we have handled meniscal repairs to allow weightbearing and range of motion to tolerance for many years.  Some of the top orthopedic surgeons in the world that I have worked with currently handle a meniscal repair the same as an ACL reconstruction with a meniscal repair .

For an isolated meniscal repair, I prefer the knee continue to be immobilized in full extension for 4-6 weeks but allowed full weightbearing immediately (if a longitudinal repair). For complex repairs, I would recommend limiting weightbearing to partial but understand that the hoop stresses could aid in healing and are arguably helpful and necessary.  For both cases, I would recommend passive range of motion to tolerance.

Trust me, I respect the healing meniscus and continually monitor patients as I progress their range of motion and weight-bearing activities. Things like new joint line pain along the site of the repair, new swelling or a change in pain patterns, and even clicking (although most people have this) are all signs that I may want to further assess and modify my progression.

Based off of this, I continue to stand by my rehab guidelines of full, pain free passive range of motion and immediate weightbearing after a vertical longitudinal meniscal repair. The literature is screaming this same thing at us but we continue to ignore their calls and revert to the 90’s!

What do the surgeons that you work with recommend?  Are any of them still recommending rehab guidelines based on outdated research?  Comment below and let me know, I want to hear what the rest of the country is seeing!

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8 replies
  1. sara m
    sara m says:

    Interesting read!
    My surgeon have prescribed me 6 weeks no weigthbearing past 20kg on the leg. But it was good to start physio-training as early as possible. But I have to find a physio myself. (I’m in Norway)

    I had a discoid lateral meniscus that was stuck in the joint pretty good (along with a bucket handle tear). They got it in place and stiched it. (so they also had to take up some skin to have better space for the operation, along with the knee artheroscopy-operation).

    Thoughts on this? Do you have experience with patients having done a similiar operation?

  2. Edd
    Edd says:

    Hi Mike,
    Enjoy your stuff, and appreciate this article. I am a PT in SW Arkansas and working in a hospital based OP Clinic. We recently had an Ortho start performing surgeries in our facility. The surgeon is anchoring the conservative end of the rehab protocol spectrum with some lateral ankle sprains put in a boot non-wt bearing for up to 3 months. Also equally as conservative with weight bearing on his post surgical knees (minus the TKA). Myself and the other PT’s here are preparing to have a meeting/intervention with the surgeon to try and improve post surgical outcomes. Where can I find more studies to demonstrate the benefits of early weight bearing and ROM?

  3. CharlesKim
    CharlesKim says:

    Hello mike, Thanks for the another great post. I have one question regarding the clicking sound.
    Where do you think the clicking sound might be caused from? Along the same line, where do you think the clicking sound come from following rotator cuff repair?

  4. Rebecca Kahn
    Rebecca Kahn says:

    how about what to do without surgery? My orth is telling me that I have arthritis, bone spurs in addition to the acute meniscus tear. He gave me a cortisone shot a couple weeks ago and told me to go to PT. I have a PT appt this week, but curious about what you think. Have to say that my knee joint is really getting big and feels like its more than swelling now – feel bone is being laid even more on inside of femur and tibia… Yikes!

  5. Rick Joreitz
    Rick Joreitz says:

    Our post-op protocols will typically say WBAT for simple repairs with the brace in extension for a month. Regardless of pain, I’ll have the patient decrease the WBing if effusion is not going down or fluctuating. That also begs the question of how much CKC exercises you want to do. Have to balance healing, WBing with ADLs, and amount of reps for TherEx.

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