Can swimming worsen a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear involves a rip in the cartilage within the knee joint which is often triggered by abrupt, acute trauma such as twisting the knee during sports. A degenerative tear that occurs during daily activities such as climbing stairs or walking can occur due to arthritis or the natural aging process.

Swimming can worsen the pain from a meniscus tear if the injury is left untreated and was not able to heal which can lead to further damage. Nevertheless, swimming can be beneficial during the rehabilitation process as long as allowed by the doctor.

Characteristics of a meniscus tear

A meniscus tear involves a rip in the C-shaped knee cartilage that serves as a shock absorber in between the shin and thigh bone. This injury occurs commonly among men than women which typically affects the posterior horn of the medial meniscus that is positioned on the interior of the knee towards the back.

The symptoms of a meniscus tear include the following:

Meniscus tear

Apply an ice pack that is wrapped with a thin towel 2-3 times in a day for 20 minutes every session

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Pain that becomes worse while squatting, pivoting and vigorous activities
  • Instability in which the knee feels loose or wobbly (severe tears)

One of the complications known as “locked knee” can occur in which the fragments from the meniscus tear are embedded into the joint and causes it to become immobile. If an individual suspects a meniscus tear, a doctor should be consulted so that the injury can be diagnosed with physical examination, ultrasound and MRI.

Management of a meniscus tear

A minor meniscus tear that is not locked or unstable can be managed with the RICE method which involves the following:

  • Rest from the activity that caused the injury
  • Apply an ice pack that is wrapped with a thin towel 2-3 times in a day for 20 minutes every session
  • Keep the affected knee higher than the level of the heart
  • Apply an elastic compression bandage

You can reduce the pain and swelling by providing the individual with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications as long as there are no conditions that prohibit their use. The knees that are unstable or locked might require arthroscopic surgery in which the meniscus is either repaired or removed. The full functionality usually takes 4-5 months to return.

Can I swim?

Swimming is both a low-impact and aerobic activity that might play a vital role in the recovery process after sustaining a meniscus tear. It is recommended to use the activity as an alternative to maintain the level of fitness during the healing process. Just make sure that the doctor allows the activity.

The whip and frog kicking must be avoided since both can place stress on the knees. Swimming helps promote recovery by helping build up the quadriceps and hamstring muscles thus increasing strength and flexibility.

A suitable regimen is to swim at varying intensities to manage a meniscus tear. The exercise must start with strokes without kicking and progress to scissor and dolphin kicks or kicking with the legs together.


The vastus medialis or inner thigh muscle which is part of the quadriceps can end up weakened. Once this occurs, it contributes to knee issues. Strengthening the quadriceps muscles is vital to avoid re-injury to the knee joint.

The exercises must include leg presses, squats, leg extensions and lunges. Wearing the correct footwear and observing the proper mechanics for pivoting and landing from a jump can also minimize the risk for injury.


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