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7 Exercises to Speed Up Recovery After ACL Repair Surgery

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is key to your knee’s stability and movement. It’s what prevents your thigh bone from going too far ahead of the lower leg bone. That’s crucial for walking, running, jumping, and changing directions—activities that are part of daily life and most sports.

Recovering from ACL repair surgery requires time. The right approach to rehabilitation means a structured and personalised exercise plan. Targeted exercises post-surgery are important during the challenging post-op period to speed up recovery.

By committing to a personalised set of exercises, you’re not just healing, you’re actively working towards a stronger, more resilient knee. Without the correct physiotherapy intervention, the road to recovery can be even long and painful. Here are some goals of post-ACL surgery physiotherapy:

  • Restore Joint Mobility: Getting the knee to move freely again is a top priority. Gentle exercises help in getting the knee in motion without straining the repaired ACL.
  • Strengthen Surrounding Muscles: Building strength in the muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings is essential. They support the joint and aid in a more robust recovery.
  • Improve Proprioception: Exercises that enhance proprioception (sense of knee’s position in space) help you avoid future injuries.
  • Prepare for Normal Activities: Gradually, rehab focuses on getting you back to your everyday tasks and sports. This is pivotal for a successful return to your pre-injury lifestyle.

Your post ACL surgery physiotherapy regimen isn’t just about mobility. You’re also paving the way for a knee that’s as strong—or perhaps even stronger—than it was before.

Key Exercises for Enhanced ACL Recovery:

Rehabilitation following ACL repair includes specific exercises, each playing its role in your path to recovery. For maximum impact, it’s crucial to practise them under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

The personalisation of your rehab program depends on your individual needs and daily activities. Here are a few common exercises commonly included in the post-ACL surgery physiotherapy regime:

1.    Quad Sets

Quad sets are foundational exercises in ACL rehab. They help build knee stability by focusing on the quadriceps. Here’s how to perform quad sets at home:

  • Sit or lie down with your leg extended.
  • Place a cushion or rolled towel under your knee
  • Then tighten the thigh muscles without bending the knee such that you press down the cushion or towel roll. 

Engagement of the quadriceps helps maintain muscle tone and encourages blood flow to the knee area. Both are vital for healing and reducing swelling.

2.    Partial Lunges

Partial lunges are a step-up exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at once. To perform one, simply step forward and lower your body such that your knee bends slightly while your upper body and spine remain straight, as you are standing. Remember, bend the knee slightly. You can increase the bending angle as you progress in your rehab.

This exercise engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. This multi-muscle engagement helps build strength around the knee and improves balance and coordination.

3.    Hamstring Curls

The hamstring plays a significant role in knee stability and overall leg strength. These can reduce pain and swelling, and increase knee flexor strength. You can do these by lying on your stomach, and gently bending the knee to bring the heel toward the buttocks.

This exercise is crucial for creating muscular balance around the knee joint. It also supports the ACL graft, facilitating effective and safe healing.

4.    Ball Hamstring Curls

Engaging in stability ball hamstring curls is a step up from basic strengthening. It incorporates core stability and balance into your regimen. Here’s how to do one:

Lie on your back and place your heels on a stability ball. Pull the ball toward your body while lifting your buttocks off the ground. This will activate your hamstrings, glutes and core. Only bend your knees slightly in the days immediately after your ACL surgery. You can increase the angle as you progress in your physiotherapy rehab.

This comprehensive exercise is crucial for creating a supportive network around your knee. Hamstring curls help enhance proprioception, which is vital for maintaining knee stability.

5.    Gentle Leg Presses

The leg press exercise is a cornerstone in rebuilding strength post-ACL repair. Leg presses help strengthen the essential supporters of the knee joint; quadriceps and glutes. Gradually, they help to load the repaired ACL, distributing forces more evenly during movement.

Leg presses aid in restoring confidence in your knee’s ability to withstand resistance. Consistent practice gradually prepares you for more complex and weight-bearing activities.

6.    Calf Raises

Incorporating calf raises into your recovery program is about more than just muscle building. It doesn’t directly work your ACL but contributes to the functional stability of your entire leg. Strong calf muscles contribute to overall stability, support your gait, and act as shock absorbers.

You also promote efficient blood flow by doing this exercise. Robust blood flow post-ACL repair surgery is essential for reducing inflammation and helping your leg heal.

7.    Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises like box jumps or controlled trampoline jumps are introduced to challenge your knee in a controlled way. These exercises test and enhance your knee’s ability to deal with dynamic, high-impact forces. Plyometrics re-teach your body to absorb shock effectively. They help prevent re-injury and ensure your return to sports or high-demand activities.

Integrating these exercises into your ACL rehab under the guidance of a healthcare professional can make all the difference in your healing. Your recovery trajectory depends on your knee regaining the strength needed for a full return to your active lifestyle. More importantly, these exercises help reduce the risk of future injury.

How to Make Your Rehab Work Better with Exercises

While recovering from an ACL injury, it’s important to do your exercises as part of a bigger plan for your whole knee to get better. Here’s how to make sure those exercises work towards your healing:

  • Mixing exercises appropriately: Not all physiotherapy exercises work equally well for post-ACL repair healing. Similarly, not all exercise combinations work well for everyone. Consult a healthcare professional to ensure your regimen is right for you.
  • Change your routine as you progress: As you get better, the exercises should get harder in a way that’s right for you. Your doctor or physiotherapist will help change your exercises to fit how you’re healing.
  • Check how you’re healing: Attend all your appointments with your physio and surgeon so they can ensure everything is healing as it should.
  • Thinking ahead: Doing your exercises isn’t just about getting back to normal now. It’s also about making your knee strong for later so you can do things without knee trouble.

By following your personalised plan and doing your exercises, you’re helping your knee to heal up as fast as possible. Take the time to learn the proper execution of each exercise and remember to be patient with yourself.

Your Next Steps

Getting better from an ACL repair means having a rehab plan that’s as unique as you are. Physiotherapists help you along this road and make sure you’re doing everything right for your knee’s healing.

Staying involved in your rehab and taking an active interest is mission-critical after an ACL repair. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone on this journey. Our clinics in Eltham, Battersea and Norbury are ready to help you with a rehab plan that fits just what you need.

Our customised plans are made just for you and lay the groundwork for a return to your pre-injury activity levels. Reach out today and see how our trained physiotherapists can help you heal.