Meniscal tears are one of the most commonly reported knee injuries. This is unfortunate because the menisci have several important roles within the knee through their multiple functions. First, both the medial and lateral menisci act as shock absorbers and assist with load bearing of the joint. Second, the menisci work together to assist with joint congruency of the femur and tibia during motion. Third, they act as secondary restraints to give the joint more stability. Fourth, the menisci assist with joint lubrication by helping to maintain a synovial layer inside the joint. Fifth, nerve endings within the menisci are thought to give proprioceptive feedback during motion and compression.
With all of these important roles, having healthy, intact menisci is vital for normal knee functioning. When a client has a meniscal tear, he or she may complain of symptoms during activity including stiffness, clicking or popping with joint loading, giving way, catching, and locking (in more severe tears). Other signs include joint pain, swelling, and muscle weakness (e.g., quadriceps). Until your client has surgery, it is best if he participates in activity when symptoms are diminished (that is, avoid working out during a flare-up), and avoid deep squats, cutting, pivoting, or twisting. Non-impact cardio activities like stationary cycling and swimming would be good options. Closed-chain activities like squats and lunges should only be performed with very light loads and in a short range of motion (that is, 0 to 45 degrees). Straight-leg raises (to target the quadriceps) and calf raises are options for other lower-body exercises.
The bottom line is to have the client avoid impact and deep ranges of motion for the knee leading up to his surgery. Post-surgery exercise should be at first handled by a rehabilitation specialist. When the client is ready to resume regular activity, communicate with his healthcare team and follow their guidelines and limitations for exercise.