Coming Back from ACL Reconstruction

Basketball-Player-psd61793Of all sports injuries, the ACL is the most dreaded to athletes. At nearly 200,000 occurrences annually, ACL-related injuries are some of the most common knee injuries in sports and have ended careers.

About 70% of ACL injuries are non-contact. That means it could stem from how you move, particularly while playing sports that involve quick cutting, pivoting, and jumping.

Other experts believe it could just be that we’re more prone to these types of injuries due to lifestyle and environmental factors. One thing that all experts agree on is that a loud pop or snap coming from your knee means you’re in for a long road of rehabilitation.

Do I need surgery?

acl tearACL tears bring swelling to the knee, joint looseness, and pain when putting weight on the injured leg. Whether you need surgery or not depends entirely on A) the extent of the injury, and B) the extent of your participation in a rehab program.

Strengthening your quadriceps and hamstrings helps build up enough muscle support for the knee to regain stability and avoid or delay knee surgery. While this might help some patients return to normal activities, others have very poor results and have to decide between having surgery, or quitting their activities and/or sports altogether.

Patients who have surgery and complete rehab are more likely to return to competitive sports than if they only did rehab.

Physical therapy before and after is best

First, I can’t stress enough how important it is to finish your rehab program. Patients who rush through a rehab program risk weakening the reconstructed ligament. If they start sports training too soon, they risk having an unstable knee and reinjuring the ligament.

Warm up

2C9A7677Start every workout with warm up that gets your blood circulating and gets your knee ready for exercise. Light jogging, bike machines, and treadmill workouts are fantastic, as are exercises that emphasize balance, agility, and mobility.

Start slowly

Focus on quad sets, straight leg raises, and heel slides to the front and outside. These will help build strength, but be careful to not work to the point where you feel pain.

Increase intensity

As symptoms abate and you can bear weight, focus on exercises that strengthen your gluts, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Exercises that focus on resistance, plyometrics, and balance and mobility are best, but still take it slow. Good exercises include side-lying leg lifts, glut sets, bridges, mini-squats, heel raises, and prone hamstring curls.


Biking is also a great way to hit all the major points. Above all, remember that post-ACL rehab isn’t a quick and easy process. It takes time and patience to get your muscles where they need to be to minimize recurrence.

Having an experienced physical therapist put you on the right path and monitor your progress to keep you on track is one of the best ways to ensure a successful rehabilitation. Our physical therapists are ready to help you get back to living your life, so contact us today to set up an appointment. You don’t even need a prescription or referral!