Is Physical Therapy More Effective Than Surgery for Degenerative Meniscal Tears?

By Rachel Long, PT, DPT

Approximately 25% of people older than 50 experience knee pain from degenerative joint disease.  Degenerative joint disease is also known as osteoarthritis (OA) and is a leading cause of disability among older adults.  Knee OA occurs when the cartilage that cushions the knee joint (the meniscus) gradually deteriorates due to “wear-and-tear”.  Symptoms can include locking or clicking, stiffness upon waking or after prolonged sitting, pain during or after movement, tenderness along the joint line, decreased range of motion, and/or swelling.

A recent study showed no difference in self-reported knee function and progression of knee OA (demonstrated on X-ray) in patients with meniscal tears who received physical therapy vs. those who underwent surgery (arthroscopic partial meniscectomy) 5 years prior.

Physical therapy for degenerative meniscal tears may include:

  • Patient education
    • Joint protection strategies
  • Therapeutic exercise
    • Strengthening
    • Low impact aerobic exercise
    • Balance and proprioception training
    • Flexibility
  • Home exercise program
  • Manual “hands-on” therapy
    • Massage
    • Joint mobilization
    • Stretching
    • Range of motion
  • Gait training
    • With or without the use of an assistive device (cane)
  • Modalities
    • Heat/ice
    • Electrical stimulation
    • Taping techniques

There is strong evidence that supervised exercise can lessen pain and improve function. Experts agree physical therapy should be the preferred treatment over surgery for degenerative meniscal tears.  Our specialists at Lifeline Physical Therapy in Pittsburgh, PA can help manage symptoms from degenerative meniscal tears and delay progression of OA.  Call us today!

References:

BMJ 2017;357:j1982

JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(7):e2220394. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.20394