Your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the most important structures in your knee, where it stabilizes rotation and controls back-and-forth motion. It’s also one of the most commonly injured ligaments, especially if you participate in football, basketball, skiing, and soccer.
Following an ACL injury, rehabilitation and temporarily restricting your activity are essential to prevent knee instability and progressive damage.
At Midtown East Physical Therapy in New York City, we know you’re eager to get back in the game, so here are our five top tips for recovering as quickly — and successfully — as possible.
Stick With Your Prescribed Exercise Program
Getting back in the game after an ACL injury is a stepwise process. It’s essential to diligently follow every step of your exercise program to regain optimal strength, flexibility, and stability.
At the start, focus on bearing weight as tolerated and regaining range of motion. After you have full flexion and extension of your knee, you can add some resistance exercises for recovering strength.
Initial exercises for your knee are designed to improve flexibility with an emphasis on forward-backward and side-to-side rehabilitation.
As your knee’s strength improves, you can add light jogging and agility exercises, followed by plyometric exercises to increase power. When you’re cleared to return to play, you need a plan for getting back to your specific sport and injury prevention guidelines — we’re glad to help with that and all aspects of your exercise program.
Pay Attention to Your Exercise Form and Rest
How you exercise is just as important as following a strict regimen. Proper form is essential to ensure you don’t overstress your knee.
You also need sufficient rest between exercises so your ACL ligament can heal and you don’t develop muscle fatigue. Otherwise, you’re at risk for re-injuring your knee. When we supervise your rehabilitation, we give you guidelines to follow for time spent in exercise versus rest.
Do Not Forget Core Training
Exercises to strengthen your core muscles improve recovery from ACL injuries, as well as your overall function. You should have good core stability before starting movement exercises to rehabilitate your knees.
Strengthening your core also improves your hamstring-to-quadriceps ratio, which in turn stabilizes your knee and boosts performance.
Get Optimal Nutrition
Your body needs an extra boost of nutrition when it’s under the stress of healing your ACL injury. This includes getting enough calories to maintain the energy demands of healing.
You may be worried about watching calories while you’re inactive, but this is not the time to cut back. You need to consume about 15-20 calories per pound of body weight; otherwise, your body may begin to break down muscles for energy, which compromises healing.
You also need plenty of water, protein, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin A to be sure your ligaments can rebuild tissues.
Do Not Neglect Your Psychological Health
Nothing messes with your head more than suffering an injury that puts you out of the game for four to nine months. While you work on your physical rehabilitation, don’t ignore your feelings or mental health issues that commonly arise following an ACL injury.
Whether you’re angry, depressed, anxious, or worried about how you’ll perform once you’re cleared to play, your recovery is better when you face the issues head on.
It may help to talk with someone you know who also had an ACL injury or to fill your time pursuing an activity that’s safe for your knee. Some patients recommend writing about your feelings and concerns because they found it was a great release that helped them stay positive and focused.
Keeping up with your mental health while you recover goes a long way toward ensuring you’re psychologically ready to get back in the game when your knee is healed.
Recovery Takes Time
In the end, recovery takes time — probably more time than you’d like when it means not participating in your sport — but your knee is a complex joint and about half of ACL injuries occur with damage to cartilage. Your knee needs time to fully heal, so you can get back in the game with less risk of re-injuring your ACL ligament.
At Midtown East Physical Therapy, we have extensive experience helping patients achieve safe and successful rehabilitation following an ACL injury. We work with you to develop a program that restores your knee and is customized for your sport. If you have questions, call or book an appointment online.