Runners will often develop knee pain at some point, and it is important that they don't rush off for MRI before being clinically assessed. It is important to note that most of the over 40s won't have a 'normal' knee MRI, and 30-35% of runners over 50 have degenerative meniscal tears.
Degenerative posterior horn meniscal tears amongst runners are very common, but does this mean you are bound to low impact training? Many runners will often look to the fastest way back to running, and this usually involves MRI and possibly surgery. However, having a portion of your meniscus removed can predispose you to accelerated osteoarthritis of the knee, which could impact your running in the long term.
If you have a meniscal tear, then it is important to answer some questions to see what the most appropriate action plan may be:
# Does your knee feel unstable?
# Does the pain increase with activity?
# Is your knee movement limited?
Every injury is relative to each individual, so management will always vary. Most degenerative meniscal tears will not worsen with running, and can be managed conservatively. However, meniscal tears that have a traumatic onset, the knee is locking or giving way, is consistently painful after exercise, and has restricted function, may need further intervention. Generally, a minimum of 6 weeks, and up to 3 months, should be allowed for recovery whether you have had surgery or not. Strength rehabilitation and low impact exercise should be incorporated into your plan to accelerate your recovery.
It is often best to be assessed by a health professional to offer the best guidance, which is personal to you and your athletic ability.