More than 200,000 Americans tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) each year, and oftentimes sporting activity is the underlying cause of the injury. We ask a lot of our knees during athletic activity as they help us twist, turn, move and balance, but if the ligament gets overloaded during a moment of stress, a partial tear or complete rupture of the ACL can occur. When this happens, physical therapy is all but certain in your future. In today’s blog, we explain how physical therapy can help you return to sport after an ACL tear, and why it’s so important if you want to come back stronger than you were prior to the injury.
Physical Therapy For ACL Injuries
It’s worth noting that some patients can recover from an ACL injury without surgery, but the vast majority undergo a reconstructive procedure. We’re going to assume you are undergoing a corrective procedure for your ACL injury, but the following tips are still beneficial even if you can recover with physical therapy alone.
Pre-Op Physical Therapy
In some instances, your surgeon may recommend that you undergo short-course physical therapy prior to your operation. PT can help to reduce swelling and increase range of motion, which are both beneficial prior to going under the knife. Surgery can’t be performed until a certain amount of swelling has resolved, so physical therapy can lead to a quicker surgery and a speedier recovery.
Post-Op Physical Therapy
After surgery, your physical therapist will become your best friend in terms of helping keep your progress on track. They’ll begin by explaining your weight bearing restrictions and fitting you with crutches or another assistive walking device. They’ll also walk you through an icing, elevation and compression routine to help reduce swelling in the first few days after surgery.
Within the first week, they’ll begin targeted therapy by introducing some gentle range of motion and movement exercises. Aside from helping to slowly build flexibility and muscle strength in your knee, physical therapy will help to improve blood flow to the area, which will help expedite healing and reduce swelling.
Over the next few weeks, your physical therapist will gradually increase your workload. Using a combination of weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises, your PT will work to strengthen the ACL and all the nearby supportive structures that help the knee handle stress. As you progress through this, your physical therapist may add balance training exercises to your routine. These exercises will help you become more confident in your knee while also allowing the ligament to relearn how it reacts to stress as it is channeled in different ways throughout the knee.
Finally, after a few months, some normal sporting-type exercises may be introduced. Jogging may progress to relaxed running programs, and eventually some sport specific exercises can begin, typically around six months depending on the sport. Soon after, you may be able to return to practice with your team in a limited capacity while working on your endurance and getting back to game speed. With the help of a physical therapy program, athletes can typically return to their sport in a full capacity 9-12 months after surgery.
For more information about how we can help with your ACL injury recovery, reach out to the experienced physical therapists at OrthoRehab Specialists today.