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Exercises After ACL Repair

An exercise program will help you recover faster after your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is repaired. In fact, prolonged immobilization would be detrimental to this ligament, say Gregory S. Kolt and Lynn Snyder-Mackler in “Physical Therapies in Sport and Exercise.” Your ACL is one of four primary stabilizing ligaments in your knee, and its job is to prevent forward movement of your tibia bone from below your femur bone. A torn ACL is a common sports injury. Rehabilitation should always be done under a doctor’s supervision.

Motility Exercises

Immediately after your surgery, common ACL exercises include those designed to improve your motility, or range of motion, such as hamstring stretches, according to doctors Peter Buck and Tom Greenwald of McFarland Clinic in Iowa. The doctors helped develop protocols used at Iowa State University. Prone hangs will help you regain extension that equals that of your non-injured knee, Buck and Greenwald say. To do a prone hang, lie on a bed on your stomach with both of your legs straight. Move toward the foot of the bed until your legs hang over its edge at the top of your knees, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma. Let your legs hang as long as you can tolerate to help straighten your knee. Seated passive knee motion exercises also help you regain range of motion. Sit on edge of a chair or your bed and let your legs dangle over the edge, knees bent. Put the foot of your non-injured leg behind the ankle of your injured leg. Lift your legs until your injured knee straightens. Use your non-injured leg to slowly lower the hurt leg. You are likely to feel some discomfort when your hurt knee bends.

Leg Raises

Straight leg raises are used early in your post-operative therapy, says Freddie H. Fu in the book, “Current Concepts in ACL Reconstruction.” These are performed with your knee brace on, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma. Lie on your back and ensure that your brace is locked. Put your other foot flat on the floor or bed, knee bent. Tighten the quad muscle of your injured leg tightly before raising it slowly. Go until your ankle is about 12 inches off the floor. Lower your leg slowly.

Quad Sets

Buck and Greenwald recommend quad sets, another common ACL recovery exercise. You sit on a flat surface and keep your legs straight. Then tighten your thigh muscle. As you do so, push the back of your knee into the surface. The Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma recommends doing this exercise as often as you can because it will aid in getting your leg straight and strengthening your quad muscles. The quadriceps muscles are the primary focus for strengthening exercises during the early portion of rehabilitation, Fu says. You need to strengthen your quads before you gain permission to unlock your brace, the experts at the Nicholas Institute say.

Heel Slides

Heel slides are done lying on your back without your brace. Slide your foot along the floor and slowly bend your knee. After you’ve bent your knee as much as you can, slide your foot down again until your knee gets straight. It’s OK to use your other leg to help if you need to, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma.

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About the Author

Linda Tarr Kent is a reporter and editor with more than 20 years experience at Gannett Company Inc., The McClatchy Company, Sound Publishing Inc., Mach Publishing, MomFit The Movement and other companies. Her area of expertise is health and fitness. She is a Bosu fitness and stand-up paddle surfing instructor. Kent holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Washington State University.

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