Whether choosing a surgical or nonsurgical approach to treatment, physical therapy is a vital part of healing from an ACL tear or injury. When it comes to ACL rehabilitation, there are three main treatment goals your physical therapist and orthopaedic surgeon will work towards for you to be cleared to return to normal activity.
The three main treatment goals include:
Your doctor and physical therapist will design a comprehensive physical rehabilitation (rehab) program that takes into consideration the following:
Throughout the next several months, you will work with your physical therapist on incorporating strength and flexibility exercises, including sport-specific exercises. UPMC Sports Medicine’s science-based approach to rehabilitation from ACL injury typically involves five phases. The duration of each phase will depend on your approach to treatment.
The first two months of rehab are crucial to the healing process after ACL surgery.
You'll learn exercises that will help you:
Based on how severe your ACL injury, you should attend PT at your local rehab center one to three times a week. You should also practice your exercises at home.
When you regain control of the quads and range of motion in the knee, the focus of rehab changes to:
At this time, your physical therapist might let you do more rehab on your own at the gym. You'll only need to come to the rehab center for routine check-ins.
Based on your progress, you'll start running as early as four months after ACL surgery.
Your physical therapist will work with you in a controlled setting on a treadmill to assess leg movement and function.
As fitness and performance improve, he or she might ask you to start low-level agility training. These basic footwork drills and simple direction changes will help you move on to sport-specific exercises.
Five to eight months after ACL surgery, your doctor and physical therapist will see if you're ready for jumping.
Phase 3 adds jumping and landing on two feet versus the low-level agility drills from phase 2. This may include simple exercises like jumping on flat ground all the way to complex drills like jumping on and off boxes.
In this phase, it's vital to work on movement patterns to prevent future knee injuries.
Six to nine months post ACL surgery, you'll start drills that focus on single leg jumps and landings, and sports-specific cutting.
Cutting drills involve speed and sudden changes in movement.
Your physical therapist will add cutting drills towards the last two months of rehab. By now, your hurt leg should have the same strength and flexibility as your healthy leg.
The last phase of rehab takes place at nine to 12 months. The focus of this phase is to steadily add sports movements at slow speeds and then faster speeds.
You'll start doing sport-specific drills with teammates.
If you play contact sports (like football, soccer, or basketball), your physical therapist can help design a plan to introduce contact slowly.
These are the common guidelines we suggest after ACL surgery. They may vary based on each person and their desired activities. Athletes should follow them closely to help return to play on schedule.
When rehabbing from ACL surgery, your physical therapist will include drills at each phase of recovery that will help:
During rehab from ACL reconstruction, you'll learn:
Contact the UPMC Sports Medicine ACL Program today to learn more or make an appointment.