Reconstruction, Then Physical Therapy

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgically addresses the torn ligament to restore knee function. This procedure also treats meniscal tears or other conditions compromising the knee joint. With ACL reconstruction, the surgeon replaces the injured ligament with a tendon from a donor site, which acts as a new ligament and heals over time. Recovering from ACL reconstruction usually takes 6-9 months and requires consistent physical therapy (PT) and rehabilitation. During the initial stages of PT after ACL reconstruction, patients will work on 3 activities appear repeatedly. These exercises restore ROM by strengthening and stretching the muscles surrounding the knee.

1. Target quads with squats

The quadriceps are the major muscle group in the front of the thigh between the hip and the knee. A squat targets the 4 muscles that make up this muscle group. To perform the exercise, stand up with the legs slightly apart and back straight. Place both hands by the sides. Bend both knees and lower down until thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping the back straight. This range will be limited at first to about 45 degrees, but the patient will soon move to 90 degrees. Hold this position for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as instructed by the physical therapist.

2. Curl those hammies

Leg curls are a simple yet effective way to activate hamstrings and the ACL. The exercise needs no equipment and is an open-chain exercise, meaning that the curls target the hamstring muscles only. Start face down on an exercise mat, floor, or bed. The legs must be straight, flat, and shoulder-width or less. To perform the exercise, lift the lower leg with the injury until that leg is at right angles to the rest of the body. In other words, the bottom of the foot should be facing the ceiling. Hold the curl for 1-2 seconds, then guide the foot back down to the starting position. Switch legs, performing as many as the therapist advises. To add resistance, cross the legs at the heel, or add weight or bands.

3. Try some lunges

When done correctly, lunges improve ROM while strengthening the knee, hamstring, and calf muscles. To perform a lunge, stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Step forward with the right leg and bend the knee until the right thigh is parallel to the floor. Bring the left foot back to form a right angle, bending that knee while lowering the body as much as possible. Come up into the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Some patients also try walking lunges or reverse lunges, all of which activate similar muscles. Perform the exercise with weights and repeat as advised by the physical therapist.

Trust in exercise

With the guidance of a doctor or physical therapist, ACL patients will gradually introduce exercise into the rehabilitation period. Anyone can perform the 3 activities described above at home without professional supervision. However, patients may require regular appointments with a qualified physical therapist to gain the maximum benefit. During recovery, strict adherence to the physical therapist’s instructions is essential to ensure a safe return to full function after surgery. Failure to follow these instructions may increase the risk of complications resulting in an extended recovery period or the need for additional surgeries.