ACL Surgery Recovery Exercises

Your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgery may have slowed you down, but one of the best ways to get back on that field, court or track is to get moving again. Of course, this movement would involve recovery exercises designed to build strength over time. 

Following your ACL surgery, you will be referred to physiotherapy for specific post-op exercises that are appropriate for you. It is recommended that you follow your prescribed physiotherapy plan, but here is an overview of the type of exercises you could expect during your recovery.

ACL Surgery Recovery Exercises 

Most ACL surgery patients are guided through their recovery with a specific physiotherapy program. These programs incorporate exercises that focus on regaining neuromuscular control of the quadriceps, strengthen the hip and building on the range of motion in the affected leg.

Your initial movement goal will be to gain full extension of the knee joint. This will then be followed by an exercise program that is designed to help you re-build balance and strength.

While programs and associated recovery exercises are designed specially for each patient, there is a standard progression of exercises that you could experience during your recovery period. Please note that your program will vary depending on the speed of your recovery, and the following should be considered as a general guide.

1 – 2 Weeks After ACL Surgery 

Immediately following ACL surgery, you will not be able to fully extend your knee. This is normal for the first week or so of your recovery. Subsequently, your primary goal during the first couple weeks will be to fully straighten, and possibly even hyperextend, the knee joint. 

Some of the exercises that may be recommended to help you regain knee extension include:

  • Passive Knee Extension Exercises
  • Hamstring and Calf Stretches
  • Straight-leg Raises

3 – 4 Weeks After ACL Surgery 

Once you have regained full extension of the knee and are able to bear some weight on the injured leg, your focus will shift to increasing range of motion in the knee joint and building strength in the supporting muscles. Exercises to help you achieve your new goals could include:

  • Heel Slides
  • Contraction of Quadriceps
  • Half Squats
  • Heel Raises
  • Partial Lunges

4 – 6 Weeks After ACL Surgery 

During the next two weeks, you will continue to build on your range of motion and balance while you add some resistance to your recovery exercises. It is important to gradually build up to longer training sessions and heavier weights during this time. Additional exercises recommended during this period might include:

  • Increase-strength Building Exercises with Resistance (weights, bands and cords as directed)
  • Single-leg Exercises including One-leg Half Squats and Stair Climbing
  • Core-stabling Exercises
  • One-leg Balancing
  • Increased Aerobic Exercise

ACL injury CTA V2

6 – 12 Weeks After ACL Surgery 

The following 2 – 6 weeks will involve maintaining the exercise program prescribed for you during the previous weeks. This will ensure you continue to build strength, increase flexibility and improve range of motion. Your physical therapist may recommend the following additional exercises during this time:

  • Lateral (side-to-side) Stepping
  • Lateral Step-ups and Step-downs
  • Knee Extension Strengthening Exercises (often with use of an elastic band)

12+ Weeks After ACL Surgery 

By week 12, you may be ready to begin light jogging. Agility and plyometric exercise may also be introduced.

It is important to remember that throughout your rehabilitation program that you seek advice on your progress and ensure your recovery is on track. Movement is the best way to get back to your favourite sports field, track or court, but it must be the right movements and exercises for you. Take the time to work on your recovery so you avoid or reduce the risk of future injury.

6 Jan 2020

Published by Stuart MacKenzie

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