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Physical Therapy for ACL Injuries – Information, Exercises, and More

Does a recent ACL injury have you feeling like things may never get back to normal?

Has it ruined your once very active lifestyle and you’re curious if you’ll ever be back in the game? 

Trust us when we say, there is hope.

With the right treatment, many people can heal from ACL injuries and maintain a very active lifestyle.

In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about ACL injuries and how you can overcome them through exercise and rehabilitation.

What is an ACL injury?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)  is one of the major ligaments in your knee. 

It’s a band of tissue that holds the bones in your knee together. The ACL connects your shinbone (tibia) to your thigh bone (femur). The ACL keeps the shin from sliding forward and provides stability to the knee

ACL injuries are one of the most common knee injuries — it is the overstretching, or tearing, of the ligament. 

ACL injuries occur when the knee extends past its normal range of motion or twists too sharply. If torn, it can be a complete or partial tear. 

A tear of this ligament can cause your knee to “give out” during certain physical activities.

What Causes  ACL Injuries?

ACL injuries typically occur during activities that put too much stress on the knee. 

For instance, high impact sports and sports that involve frequent twisting motions and sharp movements — football, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, etc.  These sports require movements that cause the femur to pivot on the tibia.

During high impact sports, like football, direct hits to the knee cause the tibia to be driven forward, while the femur is driven backward. 

Sometimes, a “pop” or “snap” can be heard at the time of the injury.  

These injuries also commonly occur during automobile accidents, workouts, or while doing certain jobs. 

Studies have shown that women are more likely to have an ACL injury than men.

Types of ACL Injuries

What many people don’t know is that there are three different categories healthcare professionals use to classify ACL injuries.

Grade One

During a grade one ACL injury, the ligament has sustained minimal to mild damage. The ligament has been stretched, but still keeps the knee joint stable. 

Grade one ACL injuries are considered ACL sprains. 

Grade Two

Grade two ACL injuries are very rare. When a grade two occurs, fibers in the ACL have been partially torn, and the ligament has been stretched.

These are considered partial tears. 

Grade Three

The most severe ACL injuries are grade three injuries. They are referred to as complete tears because the ligament fibers are completely torn — it is no longer providing any stability to the knee.

ACL Injury Symptoms

ACL injury symptoms vary based on severity. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • A popping or snapping sound at the moment of injury
  • Sudden sharp pain following the ACL injury
  • Swelling almost immediately after the injury occurs or within 24 hours after — the swelling can last up to a week.
  • Aching pain in the knee — this pain may worsen when walking, running, or climbing stairs
  • Instability — feeling as though the knee is going to “give out” during walking or pivoting and cannot bear any weight
  • Numbness down the affected leg (in serious cases) 
  • Tenderness around the knee joint

Unlike many other injuries that heal over time on their own, ACL injuries rarely heal on their own. Without treatment, ACL injuries can have long-term negative effects on your knee.

ACL Injury Treatment

Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, there are a number of common treatment options. Non-operative and operative treatments are available. 

RICE Treatment

Before resorting to more intense ACL injury treatment options, a doctor may recommend the RICE treatment for the pain and swelling:

  • Restavoid using the affected knee, consider using crutches or a splint to ease the pressure and movement
  • Iceapplying a cold compress to the affected knee for twenty minutes three times a day
  • Compressionwrap the affected knee with a plastic bandage or compression wrap
  • Elevationelevate the leg above the level of your heart 

Along with the RICE treatment, over-the-counter pain medicines, like ibuprofen or naproxen, may help relieve the pain and swelling caused by an ACL injury. 

Reconstructive Surgery

In severe cases, ACL reconstructive surgery may be done to reconnect the ligaments in the center of your knee.  During this surgery, a surgeon will replace the tissue in the injured area with that of your own, or tissue from a donor. 

During the procedure, the surgeon will make minor cuts around your knee, insert medical instruments, repair your ACL, and fix any other damage they find in the area. 

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist before or after treatment for your ACL injury. Physical therapy is one of the most common ways to prepare your body for treatment, healing, and rehabilitation after surgery.

ACL Injury Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy for ACL tears (or injuries) can help improve joint motion and leg strength before and after treatment.

If you are suffering from a grade one or grade two ACL injury, physical therapy may be recommended to help improve calf muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps to take the stress off of the knee.

Physical therapy is especially helpful in helping patients achieve normal range-of-motion and strength after an ACL injury.

Best ACL Injury Exercises

Your doctor may want to tailor your exercise routine to your specific ACL injury.

In this section we’ll discuss some of the most common exercises recommended to help ACL injuries.

ACL Physical Therapy Exercises

Your doctor may recommend doing exercises to strengthen your thigh muscles — your quadriceps and hamstrings. This is to help you prepare for a rehabilitation program, or for surgery and the rehabilitation that follows. 

Some of the most common exercises a physical therapist will recommend are:

  • Quad sets
  • Straight-leg raises
  • Heel slides 
  • Long sitting towel calf stretches 
  • Supine hamstring stretches
  • Ankle pumps

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With ACL Injuries

In Motion O.C. has helped hundreds of people recover from ACL injuries. 

We’re here to help you, too. Our top of the line physical therapists can help you overcome your ACL injury before, during, and after treatment. We’ll create a plan that fits your needs.

As the number one physical therapist according to Yelp and Google, we stand by our mission to bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to others. Let us help you get back to being you — without all of the pain caused by an ACL injury.

*This information about physical therapy for ACL injury was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.