Fact or Myth: Can Exercise Help Heal Knee Injuries?

This is FACT.

What injury strikes the most athletes? Knee injuries! A staggering 2.5 million people end up in the ER each year from a knee injury of some sort. Studies indicate that a good physical therapy program can work just as effectively, and in some instances more so, as surgical repair. Of course, everyone’s injury and circumstances are unique, and whether to opt for an exercise rehabilitation program or knee surgery is a delicate decision best determined by you and your doctor.

What Studies Are Revealing Pain in a knee. sports trauma

Findings from two studies published in the journal BMJ demonstrate the healing capabilities of a structured exercise program on knee repair. For the first study, published in 2013, researchers assessed patients for 5 years after an ACL injury. Patients who elected to heal with a rehabilitation program of exercise therapy showed almost identical healing results to patients who underwent knee surgery.

A 2016 study revealed similar findings. For two years, researchers followed 140 middle-aged patients with meniscal tears in the knees. Thirty-five percent of people over age 50 suffer from meniscal tears, either due to gradual degenerative changes or from acute injuries. Half the patients rehabilitated with an at-home exercise program, while the other half had surgery. Both groups exhibited the same beneficial gains when it came to being able to perform daily activities, including exercise and sports. Patients in both groups also reported similar reductions in pain levels. Of those in the exercise-only group, 13 decided to have knee surgery after the surgery, but didn’t see any additional benefits post surgery.

An added benefit of an exercise program is that it helps to increase muscle strength in the large muscles around the knee, thereby helping to protect against future knee injuries. The researchers assessed knee strength at the start of the study, and 3 and 12 months in. Those taking part in knee rehabilitation enjoyed increased strength, while those in the surgical repair group showed no such gains in muscle strength.

According to Science Daily, the authors explain: “Supervised exercise therapy showed positive effects over surgery in improving thigh muscle strength, at least in the short term. Our results should encourage clinicians and middle aged patients with degenerative meniscal tear and no radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis to consider supervised structured exercise therapy as a treatment option.”