Your doctor or physical therapist will design
a physical rehabilitation (rehab) program for you that takes into consideration
your normal level of activity, physical fitness, and extent of your
anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
A rehab program should include:
Coordination and agility training (for competitive
The function of muscles in the injured leg should be as
strong as in the uninjured leg before you return to normal activities.
The program usually includes treatment with a physical therapist at a
therapy center and home treatment in your home or at a gym or health club.
Typically, as you see less of your therapist, you do more on your own.
What To Expect After Treatment
How quickly you recover from your ACL
injury depends on how severe the injury was, how extensive the surgery was, and
how consistent you are in following the program. The rehab program usually
lasts from several months to a year. People who are dedicated to their program recover faster
and have fewer knee problems in the future than people who do not complete
Why It Is Done
Rehabilitation is needed after most
ACL injuries, whether or not you choose to have surgery. It will help you regain normal range of motion and flexibility in your knee. Rehab programs
also strengthen the knee and its surrounding muscles, leading to better knee
How Well It Works
How well a rehab program works
depends on whether you do rehab only or have surgery plus a rehab program and
how consistent you are in following the program.
It is important
for you and your doctor to establish what to expect from your rehab program.
This depends on your age, the extent of your injury, whether other knee
injuries are present, and your overall health.
In rehab only, some people are able to regain
enough stability in their knee to continue their normal activities and are able
to avoid surgery. Other people have poor results, never regain knee stability,
and either decide to have surgery or quit their activities or
If rehab is done without surgery, there is a greater chance
that the knee may be injured again.
Athletes who have surgery and
then complete rehab are more likely to return to competitive sports than those
who do rehab alone.
Rehabilitation programs should be well
supervised to ensure that the exercises are appropriate and the progression is
right for you. The risks of a rehab program include progressing too quickly
through the program, which may weaken the reconstructed ligament, and starting
sports training too soon. If you do not complete your rehab program, you risk
having an unstable knee and reinjuring your knee in the future.
What To Think About
Physical rehabilitation for an ACL
injury is extensive. Some people consider it like having a second job. Talk to
your doctor about questions you have on the length or intensity of the
If you faithfully participate in a rehab program, you may
be able to avoid or delay knee surgery by strengthening the muscles in the
front (quadriceps) and back of the thigh (hamstrings) that support the knee. This may be enough for elderly people, or those who do not want to return to strenuous activity. If
surgery is eventually needed, you will be much better prepared for surgery and
rehabilitation after surgery. This is very important for anyone who may have surgery to repair his or her ACL.
Not all physical rehabilitation
programs are the same.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerFreddie H. Fu, MD - Orthopedic Surgery