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Player to Player: Recovering from a Torn Meniscus

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.

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SEND YOUR TIPS TODAY

This week's question from RC:

I am 15 years old and began playing tennis just a little over a year ago, at 14. I learned how to play tennis quickly and was recommended by a tennis pro to join the USTA Jr. Tennis Team. While watching the other matches, I learned that the other team members have far more experience and skill than I do. I had lost my match with the final score being 0-6. I feel that I am not up to the skill level that the team members are currently at,, which gets me nervous. Does anybody have suggestions on what I should do?

Please share your advice with RC by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

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READ OTHER PLAYERS' ADVICE
Last week's question from Marcie:
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

I’m a 50-year-old 4.0 player, and I just learned I have a torn lateral meniscus. Does anyone have anything encouraging to say to me? Thanks.

Player Responses:

From Phillip, Jacksonville, Fla.:

I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee when I was 52, had to stay off the court for six weeks. Today at 66, I'm usually the fastest one on the court.

From Judy, Arp, Texas:

I have two friends in their 60s who had their meniscus repaired and are still playing tennis. Just be patient with the rehab, and don’t rush back to playing tennis. Good luck.

From Mark:

I am a 4.5 singles player with a torn lateral meniscus, and I wish I had great news -- I don't. It bugs the heck out of me, but I find I am able to keep playing by spending lots of off-court time doing squats and a regimen of quad-strengthening exercises, including plyometrics when the knee can stand it.

From Karen:

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but my 70-year-old, tennis-playing male neighbor just did this to his knee walking in the neighborhood. He had to have surgery. Also, Nancy O'Dell tore hers on "Dancing with the Stars," and she had to have surgery, too. I feel for you. Good luck, and God bless.

From Jonathan, Marietta, Ga.:

I had the same diagnosis and rested it from hard playing for a few months (but still taught tennis, just didn’t “play”), iced it, and started taking glucosamine chondritin religiously, and miraculously, I have avoided surgery and seem to be back to 100 percent. Good luck to you. Hopefully it will heal itself.

From Nancy, Lexington, Ky.:

I had a torn lateral meniscus in 2003. Unfortunately, I did not follow most of the advice I'm going to give you (even though I am a physician!) and have had several surgeries for that and other, possibly related, knee problems. No guarantees, but I would recommend:

1. Follow through with your doctor's recommendation for physical therapy, and be diligent in doing it!! I did PT for about a month, didn't see the point and stopped. By the time I finally had my surgery, I had atrophy (loss of strength and muscle mass), and my muscles have never returned to normal. This loss of muscle strength led to other injuries. You want to keep your muscle strength and mobility as normal as possible. If your doc doesn't recommend PT, ask for a referral!!

2. Take some time off tennis. The meniscus can heal, depending on the type of tear. You can stay in shape with lower impact activities (see if your PT offers a therapy pool with treadmill or consider water aerobics). You might even be able to do the elliptical (it's less twisting than tennis, even though it's "weight bearing"). Check with your doc. In retrospect, I wish I had taken some time off (but my team "needed me," so I kept toughing it out). If your doctor says this tear is not the type to heal, have the surgery ASAP!! Get your knee back to its best condition as soon as possible, so you can aggressively rehab it and maintain your muscle strength and leg flexibility. Don't play on it if told not to -- the torn bits of meniscus can lead to cartilage damage and other problems (and you don't want to go there).

3. If you do have surgery, insist on physical therapy afterwards. Too many doctors don't feel it's necessary after a minor surgery like this, but see No. 1 above. And consider a second opinion before surgery. It amazes me how many orthopedic surgeons don't have much respect for the middle-aged athlete. Be pro-active with your doctors and therapists. Make sure they understand how important tennis is to you and what level you play. Don't let them assume you're a "weekend hacker" if you play competitive, high-level tennis several times a week. Just because you're 50 doesn't mean you should be denied access to all the options for your particular condition (your knee is as important to you as the 18-year-old basketball stars is to them).

4. I've found there is no knee brace that "protects" the meniscus. There's no way to brace your knee to avoid twisting, so don't rely on braces.

I hope your meniscus heals fully, and you're back on the court soon without needing surgery.

Michael:

I'm 55 and have had meniscus repair on both knees. My right knee was done in May 2008, and my left in November 2006. I play three to four times a week and play on a competitive 4.0 team in Las Vegas. Find yourself an experienced orthopedic doctor. Make sure to do all physical therapy, and do extra if you can. You should be able to play with no pain. A little ibuprofen goes a long way, as does stretching before playing. Ice after can only help.

From Marion, Washington, DC:

I am 68 and tore the meniscus in my left knee on Jan. 25. Had arthroscopic surgery to repair it on Feb. 18 after an MRI confirmed the diagnosis. Took time to find an outstanding surgeon who does a lot of these operations on athletes and got a fine result. I am in rehab twice a week and doing guided workouts at the gym to stay fit. Plan to be back on court by September -- possibly with a knee brace. Do not be discouraged, but do have the painkillers handy the first week or so after surgery so you can get some sleep.

From John:

Yes, stop playing and rehabilitate. With the skills of a 4.0 player, try putting them to use with kids. USTA.com has links that can point you in the right direction. I had three level lower back fusion for Christmas 2005 and was on court as a volunteer high school coach on Feb. 1, 2006. It is amazing what you may be able to contribute. Think of it as “playing forward.” Get well soon.

From Connie, Atlanta:

I was 50 years old when I tore my ACL and my meniscus playing tennis. I'm also a 4.0 player. I had surgery in August 2007 and began playing again the following summer (a torn ACL requires nine to 12 months of rehab!). That summer I was able to play singles, and my record was seven wins, one loss. I had minimal, if any, discomfort during and after playing. I played in the fall, also pretty much doing everything I could do before. Actually, I was so grateful to be able to play again that I found more enjoyment in it than ever before!

I think having a surgeon who works with athletes helps, and you need to work hard at the physical therapy, but it's worth it! Good luck!

From B. Lynn, Midland, Mich.:

I am 62, and in the last five years, I have had three surgeries that impacted my tennis: meniscus tear and both shoulders had spurs, which caused rotator cuff tears, cartilege worn away, and part of the clavicle was removed from one side. Since I refuse to give up my tennis, I am again recovered from the most recent and difficult surgery of Aug. 28, 2008, and playing tennis again since February, close to the level you are talking about. Before you know it, you'll be back on the court. Good luck to you.

From Robert:

When I was 25, I was hit by a car, on my motorcycle, which resulted in a large tear in the lateral meniscus of my left knee. After the severe pain continued and failed to subside, I opted for the surgery. I had it scoped, and the doctor told me that I should go on to have a good chance to retain 60 percent of my usage from then on. Well, two years later I tore the lateral meniscus of my right knee. It ended the same way but with the high hopes of 70 to 80 percent normal usage. I am now 40 and play tennis almost every day. I play very hard and am a FULL-court player. I also cycle up to 120 miles per week. My knees were never better, and seldom do I ever experience any pain.

Good luck with the surgery. Start back slow and you will prevail.

From Coach Kenny, Treae Island, Fla.:

Be patient, my friend. Healing and dealing with problems and pain is a truth of life. Watch tennis on TV. Get the Tennis Channel. Maybe work on your upper body at a gym, like Midtown fitness clubs. Maybe you can take up a new thing, like the guitar or bass, writing poetry or painting. Maybe take a course or learn the stock markets more. I believe the Dow will hit 10,000 by August, and I said that last week. Be PATIENT, and enjoy life. Tennis is an awesome release, but heal yourself, and you will be back!

From Joe, Houston, Texas:

I am 51 and have had operations on both knees; and one of them was to repair a torn meniscus as recently as a year ago. If you indeed have a torn meniscus and an MRI shows this, then get the repair done so you can get back out on the court. The surgery should be fairly minor (about one hour at the most), and in three months you will be as good as new. For the true athlete, injuries are just speed bumps. I have played basketball and tennis my whole life and couldn't imagine life without them.

From John, Livingston, N.J.:

The first thing you should do is rest. Stop playing tennis or running for a few weeks at least. Without heavy exercise, your knee will NOT GET WORSE. In some cases, if the damage is not serious, your knee may heal by itself. Second, talk to more than one doctor. The simplest surgical procedure is removing small pieces of the damaged meniscus, and the remaining portion will function (almost) as well as before. Some surgeons would be happy to operate right away, but if the damage is light, it may not be necessary, or if the damage is extensive, you may not be any better after the operation.

I went through something similar some 12 years ago. Unfortunately, after a relatively easy operation, I was back on the court in a very short time; what’s more, within two years I had a second operation on the same knee and, to this day, my knee feels OK. I say “unfortunately” because that gave me the (false) impression it was not a serious problem.

Three years ago in May (just past the age of 60 and physically in better shape than many younger opponents), I had a similar problem on the other knee, and I was convinced it would be a breeze. BIG mistake! I kept on playing through summer, and before the start of the indoor season, I rushed to have the operation, expecting to be back in action in two to three weeks. It did not get better, and I may have to give up tennis and running.

I learned more about this subject recently, reading (on the Internet) about knee replacement operations, and I strongly advise you to do the same. Most sites give an amazing amount of general information, covering a wide range of problems and remedies. I made a mistake in pushing too hard, and I hope you will fare better by learning more and waiting to make an informed decision. Please do not get impatient. Good luck!

From Virginia:

Don't despair! I had a torn meniscus and had orthoscopic surgery three years ago. I was back playing in eight weeks. Find a good surgeon with a lot of experience, do the physical therapy, eat right, and you should be back in the swing of things before you know it.

From Mary, Mount Pleasant, S.C.:

I am a 53-year-old 3.5 player, and I have battled a post tibial tendon injury in my left foot, arthritis in my right, and last summer suffered a knee injury when I collided on the court with my 4.0 mixed doubles partner going for the same ball! There are many people at my club in their 60s and 70s who have recovered from your injury. I am playing better than ever, and I know you can, too -- just don't give up, and stay as active as you can while you're recovering. When I couldn't play tennis I still went to the gym and did weights and swam. And tried not to eat too much ice cream and feel sorry for myself... tennis is a big part of my life, and it feels awful when you can't play... but you will come back and appreciate your game and fellow players even more. Hang in there!

From Peter:

I am a 66-year-old 3.5 player. When I was exactly your age, I had orthoscopic surgery to repair my torn lateral meniscus. It had gotten to the point where I just couldn't play tennis, and it even bothered me on stairs, going to a museum, etc. I was out of tennis for eight weeks (they told me six), and when I came back, I was pain free but had swelling after playing for many months. Then that went away, and now 16 years later I am still playing singles with no problems.

Hope my story helps you make the right decision for you. Good luck!

From Arlene:

We have a player at our club who is 4.0, just celebrated her 60th birthday and had a torn meniscus. She did it playing broom hockey! I played her the other day, and she is running as well as ever.

I recommend that you make sure that you see a sports medicine specialist, not just someone who's going to tell you to rest and do nothing. Participate in physical therapy, do some cross training using your upper body and/or work out the good leg (believe it or not, the other leg will benefit, even if not directly involved). Use the "free time" to work on your mental game, and target things in your game that you'd like to refine. For that, check out tennisone.com or fuzzyyellowballs.com, two great instructional sites. There is something to be gained by watching instructional videos and slow-motion strokes; it's an opportunity to internalize the right way to execute your mechanics.

Oh, and discover that one fun thing that you've never had time for because you were busy playing lots of tennis. English mysteries? A new language? Before you know it, it'll be time to start playing again. Reintegrate gradually. You may even find that you're better than ever.

Good luck.

From Dave, California:

I play 5.0 singles and have torn the meniscus on both of my knees, and fortunately I still play 5.0 tennis. I am 43 years old. The surgery is quick and easy, you should not stress about it. Just tell your doctor that you want as little meniscus removed as possible because you need your meniscus to lubricate your knee joints. You will be up and moving within one day after your surgery. It is important to try and start moving your knee right away. A stationary bike is very helpful. After about a month you will be back on the court. Don’t delay the surgery because your knee is not capable of repairing itself from a torn meniscus, you must have the surgery. Hope this was helpful.

God bless and take care.

From Jim, Kingwood, Texas:

I injured my meniscus stopping short of the net on a drop shot. Unlike the other old boys who chose to John Wayne the injury and give it some time, I was operated on the next day with minimal swelling and was back on the court with full mobility in less than 10 days. From time to time, I use a single black elastic band around the knee if we go into the third set.

From Chuck:

I tore the meniscus in both legs. The end result was artho surgery to trim them up. As was explained to me at the time, there are some instances where the meniscus can be repaired and not trimmed, but these are rare. Get a couple of opinions and find a good ortho doc, if that's the route you take. I was hitting the ball three days after the surgery -- though not running -- with full recovery in about 60 days. I get injections of glucosmine/chondrotin directly into both knees every six to nine months. You should have no long-term ill effects and will be able to continue to play. Hope this helps.

From Tom:

About six years ago, I had a torn meniscus at age 52. The last thing the doctor said was if it hurts, don’t do it. I started playing five days after the arthroscopic surgery. When I went back to the doctor after four weeks, he said I should not have played tennis, but it worked fine for me. I am a 4.0, been bumped up a few times, and foot speed is an attribute. Once in awhile, the knee feels a little strange but no real problems.


*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.

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