Physical Therapy for Meniscus Tears

Knee rehab exercises to improve strength and range of motion

Physical therapy (PT) for a meniscus tear involves a specific set of exercises to restore optimal function in your knee. Working with a physical therapist can help you strengthen your knee and regain full range of motion so you can resume your normal activities.

This is often recommended after meniscus surgery, but physical therapy for a torn meniscus may, in fact, help you avoid surgery altogether.

Your PT may use various modalities and treatments to control your pain or knee swelling, or to improve the way the muscles around your knee contract and support the joint.

This article details the type of exercise program that may be prescribed for your meniscus tear. These exercises should not cause any extra pain in your knee.

Before starting this, or any other exercise program, check in with your healthcare provider and physical therapist to be sure it is safe for you.

Range of Motion Exercises

Photo of a physical therapist working with a woman's knee.
UpperCut Images / Getty Images

Heel Slides

Performing heel slides is a great way to improve your knee's flexion, or its ability to bend fully.

To perform the heel slide exercise:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Slowly slide your heel up toward your bottom, allowing your knee to bend as far as possible.
  3. Slowly allow your heel to slide back to the straight-knee position.
  4. Repeat the exercise 10 times, moving slowly as you bend and straighten your knee.

Prone Hang Exercise

To improve knee extension (straightening) range of motion, you can perform the prone hang exercise:

  1. Lie on your stomach with your leg over the end of your bed.
  2. Allow gravity to slowly pull your knee into full extension.
  3. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then bend your knee.
  4. Repeat three times.

If any of the range of motion exercises cause increased knee pain, stop and check in with your physical therapist.

Quadriceps Exercises

Woman performing standing quad stretch while holding onto concrete wall.

Cultura RM / Mike Titte / Cultura / Getty Images

Your quadriceps muscle, or "quad," straightens your knee, and supports the joint and kneecap.

After a meniscus tear or injury, your physical therapist will likely have you work to improve your quadriceps function so your knee joint is adequately supported. Try the following exercises.

Quad Sets

To perform quad sets:

  1. Lie on your back with your knee out straight.
  2. Place a small rolled-up towel underneath your knee.
  3. Press the back of your knee down into the towel while tightening your quad muscle.
  4. Hold it for 5 seconds, and then slowly release the contraction.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Short Arc Quad Exercise

To perform the short arc quad (SAQ) exercise:

  1. Place a rolled-up bath towel or soccer ball underneath your injured knee.
  2. Tighten your quad and straighten your knee out all the way.
  3. Hold your knee straight for 3 seconds, and then slowly lower down.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Modified Mini Squats

To perform mini squats in a modified position:

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees to about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Hold this mini-squat position for 3 seconds.
  4. Slowly stand back up straight.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Perform each exercise slowly and carefully, and be sure to stop if your knee pain increases.

Straight Leg Raises

man doing leg raise on bed in physical therapy facility
Brett Sears, PT, 2011

Research indicates that hip strength can have a direct effect on knee position. Weak hips can cause your knees to move out of proper alignment.

Your PT may prescribe hip-strengthening exercises to help keep your knees in the best position possible, thus minimizing stress on your meniscus.

Straight leg raises are a great way to improve your hip strength to help your knees. Here is how you do them:

  1. Lie on your back with your injured knee out straight and your other knee bent.
  2. Tighten your quad muscle on your straight leg and raise the leg up about 12 to 15 inches. Be sure to keep your knee straight the entire time.
  3. Hold your straight leg up for a few seconds. Then lower it down slowly.
  4. Repeat the exercise 15 times.

You can perform straight leg raises in different positions. If you are lying on your side while doing it, your gluteus medius muscles will be working. Your gluteus maximus will be working if you do the prone straight leg raise.

Hip strengthening can also be accomplished with advanced hip exercises like the single-leg bridge or with ball bridges.

Balance and Proprioception

balance training - two people walking on fence


Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Proprioception is your body's ability to understand where it is in space. This is possible because your joints and muscles communicate with your brain.

Sometimes after a meniscus injury, your proprioception becomes impaired. This may occur due to a period of immobilization after your injury.

Working with your PT on balance and proprioception exercises may be an important component of your rehab program.

Some balance exercises to do may include:

  • Single leg stance (do this with your eyes opened or closed)
  • Working with a BAPS board
  • Standing on a BOSU Ball

Balance and proprioception exercises should be challenging, but you should always remain safe while performing them. Be sure you have a safe environment to exercise in and something to hold onto.

Plyometrics and Neuromuscular Training

Photo of an athlete doing a box jump.

John Fredele / Getty Images

After a few weeks of working on restoring normal range of motion, strength, and balance, it may be time to start to recover your ability to run, jump, and land properly. This can help you return to high-level work and athletic activities.

Plyometrics is a type of exercise that involves ​learning to jump and land properly. This can help you restore optimal neuromuscular recruitment of the muscles around your hips and knees.

Working on plyometrics as part of your meniscus rehab can help minimize stress and strain around your knee when running, jumping, and performing cutting maneuvers during sports.

Plyometric exercises and neuromuscular training for your knees may include:

  • Single leg hopping
  • Jump lunges
  • ​Lateral plyometric hops

One important caveat when working on plyometrics for your knee: Be sure your knee is in alignment with your ankle when jumping and landing.

Your PT can make sure you are doing these exercises correctly.


Photo of active older couple riding bicycles next to a beach

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Riding a stationary bike may be an important component of your meniscus tear exercise program. Bike riding can have many benefits, including:

  • Improving range of motion in your knee
  • Improving muscular endurance in your legs
  • Limiting stress and strain on your knee (compared with high-impact exercises like running)

Your physical therapist can help determine the amount of time you should ride and the right amount of resistance. In general, it is recommended you ride for 20 to 30 minutes, several days each week.


A meniscus tear can be a painful injury that can prevent you from enjoying your normal work and recreational activities.

By working with your healthcare provider and engaging in an active physical therapy exercise program, you can quickly and safely return to your optimal level of activity and function.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kise NJ, Risberg MA, Stensrud S, Ranstam J, Engebretsen L, Roos EM. Exercise therapy versus arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for degenerative meniscal tear in middle aged patients: randomised controlled trial with two year follow-up. BMJ. 2016;354:i3740. doi:10.1136/bmj.i3740

  2. Brund RBK, Rasmussen S, Nielsen RO, Kersting UG, Laessoe U, Voigt M. The association between eccentric hip abduction strength and hip and knee angular movements in recreational male runners: An explorative studyScand J Med Sci Sports. 2018;28(2):473-478. doi:10.1111/sms.1292

  3. Fox AJ, Wanivenhaus F, Burge AJ, Warren RF, Rodeo SA. The human meniscus: a review of anatomy, function, injury, and advances in treatment. Clin Anat. 2015;28(2):269-87. doi:10.1002/ca.22456

  4. Chmielewski TL, George SZ, Tillman SM, et al. Low- Versus High-Intensity Plyometric Exercise During Rehabilitation After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. Am J Sports Med. 2016;44(3):609-17. doi:10.1177/0363546515620583

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.