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Sports Medicine

Types of exercise w/knee injury

06/02/2009

Question:

I currently have some type of meniscus injury from running and am uncertain whether it’s just a strain, or if it’s a tear. Although it does not bother me much while I actually run, just all other times. I am taking a week off from running to see if it helps the symptoms (mainly pain, no swelling), but would like to continue with spinning classes and/or biking and elliptical. Do these exercises use the same muscles/tendons and I should refrain from those for a period as well, or is it okay to choose these so that I can try to maintain cardio fitness?

Answer:

Although you mention you "...have some type of meniscus injury from running...", if you've not already done so, it would be best if this diagnosis is confirmed - or possibly changed - by a physician, who'd need to obtain a relevant history, perform a physical examination, and possibly order imaging studies of your knee.
 
A meniscus injury would not usually be "caused" by running - unless you've injured that knee previously, or if you have a biomechanical malalignment involving your symptomatic lower limb which could excessively load one of the two menisci in your knee. A meniscus injury usually is in the form of a tear... the term "strain" does not pertain to meniscus injuries, but instead, refers to muscle injury due to overload.

"Activities within limits of symptoms" is a common recommendation as part of the treatment for many musculoskeletal problems, keeping in mind the possibility symptoms may become flared following (such as the next day) and not necessarily during the aggravating activity. Maintaining aerobic fitness via cross-training is very important while you're not able to do this by running at the level you desire.

The patterns of muscle activity when using an elliptical trainer are different than those utilized when riding a bike/spinning, but what's more important is that these activities involve little to no "impact", which means they exert a lower level of sudden compression forces upon knee joint surfaces (including menisci), as a result of which they may be better-tolerated/less likely to aggravate knee symptoms.

Again, however, the above comments are just generalities, for which reason your having an accurate diagnosis and a specific treatment plan should result in the quickest recovery.

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Response by:

Brian L Bowyer, MD Brian L Bowyer, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University