Women Over 40 Have a Higher Risk for a Torn Meniscus + Knee Pain— Here’s How To Heal It Naturally

Many people think a torn meniscus is an injury that only happens to athletes. But that’s not the case. It turns out you can sustain the injury from something as simple as your foot slipping off the curb while on your morning walk. And when that happens, it can be painful. The good news? You can learn how to heal a torn meniscus naturally with doctors' best at-home recovery tricks.

What is a torn meniscus?

“A tear in the meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries and can occur in almost all age groups and activity levels,” says Liane Miller, MD, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, people over 40 are at a higher risk of a torn meniscus than those under 40.

Before we get into what happens when you tear your meniscus, let’s look at the structure itself. “The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts like a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone and provides stability to the knee,” explains Dr. Miller. “Each knee has two menisci, one on the inner and one on the outer side of the knee.”

It’s possible to tear either meniscus and there are different degrees of severity of the injury. Adds Dr. Miller: “A tear can occur in different orientations and different locations in the meniscus, ranging from fraying of the edges to a circumferential tear.”

Related: What Causes Inside Knee Pain + How Can You Fix It? Experts Share Home Remedies That Actually Work

Symptoms of a torn meniscus

Symptoms range range from virtually unnoticeable to severe pain and swelling, depending on how bad the tear is. The most common symptoms of torn meniscus include:

  • Severe pain and a popping sensation at the time of the injury

  • Swelling around the knee

  • Stiffness and difficulty straightening the knee

  • Pain with movement, especially lateral movement or twisting of the knee

  • A locked or stuck feeling when trying to move the knee

Two common types of meniscus tears

Age is one of the biggest factors in determining how a meniscus tear occurs. “Traumatic tears are more frequently seen in younger patients between ages 10 and 45 years old who are participating in athletic activities,” Dr. Miller says. “Degenerative tears are more common in patients age 40 and over.” Here’s what happens in each scenario.

1. Traumatic tear

“Activities that cause a forceful twisting or rotating of the knee cause a tear in the meniscus,” says Dr. Miller. That’s why this injury is seen often in people who play sports that involve quickly and forcefully changing directions, such as soccer, football and basketball.

2. Degenerative tear

This type of tear, which is usually more of a fraying of the cartilage, can happen as the result of an injury or just because of degeneration over time. “In a degenerative setting, twisting injuries are the most common,” explains Carl L. Herndon, MD, orthopedic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “These can be relatively mild events, like slipping off a curb, getting wrapped up in a leash walking the dog and other routine events like that.”

Minor events like these are more likely to result in a torn meniscus when other conditions such as arthritis are also present. “Arthritis is a degenerative change of the cartilage inside the joint,” Dr. Herndon says. “As we age, arthritis becomes more common, and the chances of a degenerative tear increase.” What’s more, meniscus tears — especially those that aren’t given the proper time and care to heal — can increase your risk of developing arthritis in the knee after the fact.

Close-up of a mature woman holding her knee while trying to heal a torn meniscus naturally

See also: Knee Pain When Bending? These 8 MD-Approved Tricks Help End the Ache Naturally

Torn meniscus recovery time

“More severe tears may need anything from physical therapy to steroid injections and occasionally surgery,” Dr. Herndon says. Depending on the treatment plan and severity of the injury, torn meniscus recovery time can stretch up to 6 months if surgery is required.

“Acute traumatic tears tend to result in tear patterns that are more likely to produce a moveable or unstable fragment that can catch in the knee, causing pain, swelling or locking,” says Dr. Miller. “These types of tears typically require surgery, which is done arthroscopically, to repair the meniscus or remove the unstable piece.” In rarer cases, some patients may need a meniscus replacement.

Fortunately, “the degenerative variety [of tears] from everyday events are much milder and oftentimes get better with conservative treatments,” Dr. Herndon says. For milder tears, the torn meniscus recovery time is shorter — often in the 4 to 8 week range.

How to heal a torn meniscus naturally

If your doctor has diagnosed you with a minor tear, these 4 home treatment strategies can help you heal a torn meniscus naturally.

1. Try the RICE method

“Degenerative tears usually result in a stable upper and lower segment of meniscus,” explains Dr. Miller. “Because of this, they are less likely to result in catching or locking symptoms and can undergo initial treatment to reduce swelling and manage pain. This can involve an initial period of rest, ice, compression and elevation," also known as the RICE technique.

This method, which you’re probably familiar with from spraining your ankle as a kid, reduces swelling and inflammation in order to speed healing. It involves staying off the knee, icing it for up to 20 minutes at a time, wearing a compression bandage or stocking and propping the injured leg above the level of your heart for the first few days after the injury occurs.

Woman lying on couch with her legs elevated for a torn meniscus

Tip: No need to splurge on pricey compression bandages. “Whatever you may have on hand is fine, as long as it isn't too tight and cuts off circulation,” says Dr. Herndon. “Elastic bandage wraps, sleeves and stockings are all good options.”

2. Take it easy

Once you’re able to move around a bit, it’s important not to strain your knee for at least a few weeks if you want to heal your torn meniscus naturally. “Activities such as pivoting, twisting and deep squatting should be avoided,” Dr. Miller says. That means at first, you may need to favor the other leg when standing up or use a grabber tool to pick things up off the floor.

That said, there are no hard and fast rules. “Listening to your body is the rule here,” adds Dr. Herndon. “Anything that rises from some mild soreness to real pain, try to modify or avoid doing that activity. Let pain be the guide. If a certain activity or sport hurts, take some time off from that particular activity or modify it to be less painful for you and your body.”

3. Start with these exercises

“Physical therapy and a home exercise program can help strengthen the muscles around the knee and prevent sensations of instability,” explains Dr. Miller. You likely want to set up a session with a physical therapist, who will prescribe specific exercises to help you heal your torn meniscus naturally.

The moves will probably include things like:

  • Mini squats and leg extensions to strengthen the quad (the muscle on the front of the thigh)

  • Hamstring curls to strengthen the hamstring (the muscle on the back of the thigh)

  • Standing heel raises to strengthen the calves

If you’re looking for a place to start, Dr. Herndon recommends the quad. “The quadriceps muscle complex [4 muscles - thus the "quad" name] is a really important structure to strengthen to allow for better knee mobility, function and stability,” he says. “It is also one of the first muscle complexes to atrophy, or weaken, after an injury. Getting strong quad function is key to recovery.” (See how red light therapy eases knee pain, too.)

Interested in trying a quad-strengthening leg extension at home? Check out the video below.

4. Use OTC pain meds

“Pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories,” suggests Dr. Miller. You can even take both, if needed, to help heal a torn meniscus naturally.

“For the majority of people, it is perfectly safe to take both," says Dr. Herndon. "My typical recommendation is to start with an NSAID [like ibuprofen] and see how that helps. In general, ibuprofen has a stronger anti-inflammatory effect than acetaminophen. But if that proves to be less effective, both ibuprofen and acetaminophen work on different pathways and are metabolized differently. They can be taken together if necessary, as long as it's cleared by your physician.”

Dr. Herndon recommends a maximum of 600 mg of ibuprofen every six to eight hours and 1,000 mg of acetaminophen every eight hours.

Tip: “If [your pain] rises from soreness to frank pain or diminishes lifestyle or function, it's best to seek care from an orthopedic specialist for a full evaluation and discussion of the risks and benefits of various treatment options,” says Dr. Herndon.

More ways to keep your knees healthy and alleviate common injuries:

What Causes Inside Knee Pain + How Can You Fix It? Experts Share Home Remedies That Actually Work

“Red Light Therapy Cured My Knee Pain” — How One Woman Finally Found Relief

Knee Pain When Bending? These 8 MD-Approved Tricks Help End the Ache Naturally

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.