A publication by Harvard University’s medical school estimates that about 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur each year in the United States, affecting both athletes and nonathletes. Over a third of these injuries are partial or complete ACL tears.
A solid program of physical rehabilitation is essential after an ACL tear, whether treatment involved surgery or not. Sports such as basketball, soccer, football, and tennis may become additionally challenging after some ACL injuries.
Even if you are not an athlete, life factors such as your occupation – for example, if you are in construction or law enforcement – may be affected, since they require a fully stabilized knee. A physical therapy program can help you regain knee motion and strength.
ACL Tear Rehabilitation
Physical therapists use a wide range of options in treating patients following an ACL injury, repair, or reconstruction. A variety of proven approaches will be incorporated into the rehabilitation phase following your ACL injury. Depending on the degree of damage to your ligament, rehabilitation programs may include:
- Targeted exercise routines, including work aimed at strengthening the joint, maintaining balance, limb alignment, and reducing pain and inflammation
- Rehabilitation machines (using gravity assistance or continuous passive motion)
- Protective and supportive bracing
- Electrical neuromuscular stimulation
- Ice therapy (cryotherapy)
The 3-Part Program
Physical therapy for ligament injuries, such an ACL tear, can last for up to 16 weeks and is usually divided into a three-part program:
- Acute stage: Follows a sudden (acute) ACL injury or a surgical repair of the ligament. Its purpose is to restore range of motion, and reduce inflammation and pain. This first phase may last from 4 to 8 weeks.
- Recovery stage: The goal of the second phase of the program is to improve the overall muscle strength of your leg and its function and stability. The recovery phase may last for 4 weeks and is directed at returning you to your previous level of function and activity, whenever possible.
- Functional stage: The third phase of the program, usually lasting about 2 weeks, builds on the achievements of the second phase. It adds retraining of your knee muscles to lower the risk of re-injury. You will also learn how to incorporate your body’s core and trunk areas to prevent injury and maintain performance.
Rehabilitation and focused sport-specific training can help you restore physical function. But you must keep in mind that even if your ACL has been reconstructed through surgery or rehabilitated, it doesn’t mean you will recover 100 percent of your former functionality. Some ACL injuries may be grave enough to considerably limit future performance. Consult your doctor for the anticipated level of recovery in your specific case.
Get the word out to your fellow athletes and active friends: ACL injury prevention is one of the best things you can do to make sure you will be enjoying your favorite sport or activity for years to come.
To schedule an appointment to learn about the role of physical therapy in the rehabilitation of an injured ACL, please call our Brecksville office at (440) 746-1730, or our Twinsburg office at (330) 963-2920. Same-day appointments are often available. You may also submit an appointment request via our Request an Appointment form.