Monday, March 7, 2011

Ask Us Anything: How Can I Build Up Muscle with a Torn Meniscus?

"I have a torn meniscus in my left knee. It was pretty painful when I first tore it last winter – I am a regular jogger – but when I swam and biked for a few months instead of running, the pain went away, and I am now able to run regularly pain-free.

However, my left leg muscles are noticeably smaller than my right leg muscles. Is this the sign of a bigger problem? How can I build up that left leg? Or do I need to get the meniscus fixed first?"

Physical Therapist Jeff Castiglione Responds: 

It sounds like you did the right thing by taking a rest from running and doing other exercises to maintain strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Muscle shrinking, otherwise known as atrophy, can be the result of disuse, but it could also be a sign of more serious pathology.

Did the atrophy coincide with the period of inactivity or was it present prior to the injury? Do you have a history of back problems? Are there any other symptoms besides the atrophy?

Generally, if you are immobile for a long period of time, a muscle will have atrophy; this is a normal process. But, because it is only in the one leg and because you have remained active with exercise, I would recommend a follow-up with a physician to rule out other disease processes.

If other problems are ruled out, a follow-up with a physical therapist or trainer would be recommended to assess the atrophy and issue appropriate exercises. Your physician can provide you with a referral.

Keep in mind that differences in muscle size is generally not an issue for most people except visually, as long as there are no major strength differences between each limb.

— Jeff Castiglione, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Jeff is the manager of AthletiCare - Amherst, which provides Physical Therapy and Sports Training and Injury Prevention services in Amherst, NY.

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2 comments:

  1. I'm having an encounter with what has been diagnosed as "muscle atrophy." As of the moment, I'm trying to self-rehabilitate to get it back to full use. Can this reach something as serious as surgery?

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    Replies
    1. Muscle atrophy, or muscle wasting, results from loss of muscle tissue. You should seek assistance from a medical professional to diagnose the cause of the atrophy but a sudden onset of severe weakness is a concern and should be evaluated by a physician immediately. In most cases, exercise will help with atrophy caused from disuse or muscle injury. Medication may help with neurological atrophy. The important thing to remember is to first find the cause of the atrophy.

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