Returning to grappling from meniscus tears

Recently spent several months dealing with some lateral knee pain confirmed from an ultrasound to be a small meniscus tear by my doctor. Told surgery is probably the only option to clean it up.

It was prone to aggravation only from some very specific deep knee flexion scenarios. The aggravation happens if it “catches” and doesn’t resolve in a smooth way, pain ensues and presumably the healing is set back.

Of course I’m the type of person to do what I can in the meantime to see if I could fare rehabbing it.

As of last week I’m back to full range of motion, back on the mats, and cautiously optimistic that I’m going to be able to avoid surgery.

I found this post by bulletproofforbjj interesting, similar situation, but orthopedic surgeon in Australia told him 6 month outcomes are very similar between surgery and non-surgery outcomes.

The more I look around and see so many knee sleeves being worn at BJJ gyms, and the more I talk to those people, the more I think these types of meniscus injuries are SUPER common. And they don’t resolve themselves unless you put in a concerted effort (or get surgery).

1a. Took 2 months off grappling most recently.

1b. I did one month of hot yoga pretty consistently (ie. 5 days / week) to keep doing something. The super high body temp reached reminded me of the feeling you get doing rounds with a full room. It also, I think, sets up the ideal environment to regain range of motion in the knee. Most yoga studios have affordable newcomer promotions where you can get unlimited classes for one month to try it out.

2. Red light therapy 2x/day – I used Kineon

I have no idea if this actually works but I can buy the argument it has some effect on blood flow to the area.

At first I really didn’t like the buckle mechanism of the Kineon- the strap falls through the buckle or the whole thing just slides down if you try to move at all with it on the mid knee. But then I figured out that if you put a knee sleeve on, roll it down a bit, and then clip the kineon on, it holds it up perfectly so you can have this thing target the exact spot you’re looking for.

3. “Knee saver” pads behind knees so you can ease into deep flexion movements like combat base without worrying about catching the knee. This was especially helpful at the beginning when I was basically afraid to sit down on my knees fully just in case it caused any catching.

Impacto hardcore warehouse worker knee savers

4. “Reverse sled drags”. Big in the kneesovertoes movement. I don’t have a sled or access to a gym that has one. So I go for a walk near my house to a significant hill and walk backwards up that hill. It’s challenging enough that I feel a good burn in my knees that seems like it really helps.

5. Topical treatment- this one most likely out of the list to be placebo, but it couldn’t hurt to hit the spot that had pain with some sort of nourishing balm, I like this tallow based one

highland of skye balm

6. Lastly, this tip gave me some extra confidence when I was ready to hit the mats again. I’m not a big fan of knee braces/sleeves for this type of injury, but following this taping technique and then covering with a basic knee sleeve seems like a good strategy to minimize risk of the knee catching for the transition back to the mats:

There’s a bunch of other physiotherapy recommendations I received for daily/weekly mobility exercises that I would consider “table stakes” to include as well but there’s lots of that content elsewhere!

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