Kellie K. Middleton, MD

Returning to Sports After a Meniscus Tear

Sep 13, 2023
Returning to Sports After a Meniscus Tear
When you tear your meniscus, you don’t just want to feel better; you want to play hard again. But can you return to your level of play without re-injuring your knee? Follow these steps to ensure your meniscus withstands the strain of competition.

Meniscus tears are a common injury among both athletes and non-athletes and a major source of knee pain. In fact, approximately 14% of the United States population will tear a meniscus at some point in their lives.

But when competition is at the heart of your life, you worry as much about your future in sport as you do about how to treat and resolve a meniscus tear. Luckily, sports medicine has advanced by such strides that up to 88% of athletes who undergo meniscus tear repair return to play.

Kellie K. Middleton, MD, is an orthopedic specialist in Lawrenceville, Georgia, who’s an expert in repairing and rehabilitating torn menisci. As a former professional fastpitch softball player, she also understands your driving need to return to your sport.

If you must undergo meniscus tear repair, you must also be patient and follow your rehab plan closely. The following are tips on returning to your sport after a meniscus tear.

Why you need your meniscus

Each knee has two menisci, which are crescent-shaped cartilage cushions that protect your joint. The menisci absorb shocks and prevent friction between your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone), which could result in painful arthritis.

The menisci also help to distribute the weight of your body across your knee joint when you walk, run, or jump. Well-distributed weight prevents knee injuries, including meniscus tears.

If you’re an athlete, you probably tore your meniscus in the middle of a game or practice as you jumped, twisted, stopped short, or pivoted on a planted foot. Menisci are more susceptible to tears as you age, and the cartilage grows weaker and thinner.

You may have heard a pop when you injured your knee. You may not have felt the pain initially if your adrenalin was high, but — once the game ends, if not before — the pain may be excruciating. 

Most meniscus tears can’t heal on their own

Even if you’re supremely healthy, recovering from a meniscus tear is almost impossible without treatment. In most cases, treatment requires surgery.

Your meniscus can’t heal properly on its own because it has such a limited blood supply. In fact, two-thirds of each meniscus has absolutely no blood vessels at all. Because your body requires blood to rebuild tissue, it can’t repair tears in avascular areas (i.e., without blood supply).

Depending on the location and extent of your meniscus tear, Dr. Middleton chooses an approach for surgical repair. Options include:


With the microfracture technique, Dr. Middleton creates small holes in a bone adjacent to the meniscus. The holes allow access to the bone marrow, releasing cells that help rebuild the meniscus.


In a graft repair, Dr. Middleton replaces your torn meniscus with donor cartilage. She may use regenerative medicine, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, to accelerate healing. 

Cartilage cell implantation

Dr. Middleton mixes donated ReNu® mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) with tissue she’s removed from your damaged meniscus. This “minced meniscus” and MSC blend then regrow the cartilage on your damaged meniscus. 

How to recover from meniscus surgery

The first and most important step in recovering from meniscus repair is giving yourself time to adequately heal and rehabilitate. After meniscus repair, it can take up to nine months to recover and return to play. Dr. Middleton discusses your probable timeline with you before your procedure.

Below is a general outline of what you should and shouldn’t do during your recovery process. The higher numbers reflect the longer recovery for meniscus replacement surgeries.

  • Avoid full weight-bearing for 3-6 weeks
  • Use a brace for 5-9 weeks 
  • Avoid full range of motion (ROM) for 6-9 weeks
  • Work with a physical therapist from Day One

Your rehab exercises work to strengthen all of the muscles and supporting tissues that affect your knee. Routines may include a combination of:

  • Quadricep sets
  • Straight-leg raises to front and back
  • Hamstring curls
  • Shallow standing knee bends
  • Heel raises
  • Heel dig bridging

Your specialist may control pain and swelling with joint injections or other therapies. 

Don't ignore your knee pain if you suspect you’ve torn your meniscus. Start your journey toward healing and getting back into play by contacting our knowledgeable team by phone or the online form today