From seven-figure professional athletes to weekend warriors, knees are one of those things that have given every active person trouble at one time or another. Sometimes knee pain can be a sign of something bigger: a meniscal tear. These are especially common in people who play football and basketball, or other sports where players do a lot of pivoting, cutting, decelerating or twisting the knee. Meniscal tears with arthritis are also very common in those over 40, and can often be the result of wear and tear.
What’s the best option for treatment? While some more minor tears can be healed with the ever popular RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and anti-inflammatory medication, more serious tears have traditionally required surgery. But a new study has found that physical therapy may be just as good for treating these tears as going under the knife.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine randomly assigned patients with knee pain from arthritis and meniscal tears to be treated with surgery or physical therapy. Guess what they found? When they were assessed six and 12 months later, both groups showed the same amount of improvement in movement and pain reduction. In other words, physical therapy was just as effective as surgery for people with this type of injury.
So let’s say all those days on the court finally catch up to you and you begin to experience chronic knee pain or even a meniscal tear: do you opt for surgery or PT? These results suggest either would be beneficial. One benefit of choosing the physical therapy route is that it will address factors beyond the immediate problem. PTs take a “whole person” approach when treating these types of injuries, and can provide insight into why you are experiencing excess strain on your knees instead of just a quick fix. For example, is it because of a loss of strength or flexibility in the muscles? A problem with your overall joint alignment and posture? A result of carrying excess weight? Or just general wear and tear?