How to Prevent a Meniscus Injury

March 9, 2013 | Joe Giandonato

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The ligaments are always mentioned during discussions of knee injuries. But other structures in the knee are also susceptible to injury.

A study published in this month's issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal reveals that a quarter of all knee injuries are meniscus tears. (Swenson, et al., 2013). It may not be as catastrophic as an ACL tear, but a damaged meniscus can cause serious pain and impair your performance. (See STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them.)

What is a meniscus tear?

The meniscus is a fibro-cartilaginous structure consisting of two interconnected disc-shaped structures—the medial and lateral menisci. The meniscus helps improve stability, congruence and proprioception, while absorbing shear and compressive forces experienced during athletic movements and physical activity.

Sports that require pivoting, cutting and jumping can place excessive stress on the meniscus. Over time, the cumulative stress can add up and cause a tear or rupture.

Common causes of meniscus injuries

The most common cause stems from valgus forces—or external forces applied to the outside of the knee—that make the knee collapse inward. This can also result in an MCL or even an ACL injury.

If a meniscus injury is left untreated, knee range of motion can be affected, especially in a flexed position. Eventually, poor range of motion in the knee can cause other problems—in the hips, feet, ankles or lower back.

Prevention strategies

Although meniscus injuries cannot be prevented outright, strategies can be employed to reduce their occurrence and severity. To provide additional support and protection against the stresses of competition, it's best to strengthen the muscles around the knee. It's also important to strengthen the core muscles. Although they don't directly act on the knee, the core absorbs and transfers force throughout the body. Weak core muscles may be unable to slow the body down during athletic movements, leaving the knees and other joints to bear the brunt of forces they're not designed to handle.

Meniscus injury prevention exercises

Do these exercises that target your core and leg muscles two times per week. For best results, add them to your lower-body workout.

Cross-Body Dumbbell Carries

Muscles Targeted: Lateral core, abdominals and hip abductors

  • Grab two dumbbells of different weights; the heavier dumbbell should weigh twice as much as the lighter dumbbell
  • Hold the heavy dumbbell at your side and the lighter dumbbell at your opposite shoulder with your palm facing in
  • Walk for the specified distance, keeping your core tight and shoulders parallel
  • Switch sides and walk back to where you started

Sets/Distance: 2x10-30 yards each side

X Band Walks

Muscles Targeted: Lateral core, abdominals and hip abductors

  • Place an elastic band on the floor and step on it with your feet at shoulder-width
  • Grasp the left handle with your right hand and the right handle with your left hand
  • Pull the handles to your waist to form an X with the band
  • Shuffle laterally one foot at a time for specified distance

Sets/Distance: 2x10-30 yards each direction

One and a Half Squat

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, lower back and abdominals

  • Assume athletic stance with a bar on your back and your feet slightly wider than hip-width
  • Keeping your back straight and your knees behind your toes, sink your hips back and lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Extend your hips and knees to drive up to a half squat position
  • Lower again until your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Extend your hips and knees to drive up a standing position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x6-10

Reference

Swenson DM, Collins CL, Best TM, et al. "Epidemiology of knee injuries among U.S. high school athletes." 2005/2006-2010/2011." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Mar;45(3):462-469

Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
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