Physiotherapy after ACL reconstruction

To avoid another ACL injury after surgery, complete your rehabilitation with a physiotherapist

When you hear about tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), it often involves an injured athlete and a timetable for when they can get back on the field or court. But one thing that doesn’t get as much attention is the athlete’s risk for re-injury after returning. The chances of suffering another ACL injury after surgery is fairly high in certain populations, but completing a structured physiotherapy program after surgery can significantly reduce this risk.

The ACL is one of the four main ligaments within the knee that connects the tibia (shinbone) to the femur (thighbone). It runs diagonally in the middle of the knee and prevents the tibia from sliding forward on the femur, and it provides a great deal of stability for the knee to keep it from rotating out of position.

When the ACL is pushed beyond its limits, it can be either partially or completely torn. ACL tears are extremely common in high-demand sports with lots of cutting movements like basketball, soccer, and volleyball, and usually occur from a sudden impact to the knee. This can be from a cutting or pivoting maneuver, from the knee being twisted, when an athlete lands on one leg, or from a direct blow to the knee. Symptoms include significant pain, instability, swelling, tenderness, and muscle weakness, which prevents an athlete from participating for extended periods of time.

For most athletes that plan to continue playing sports, a surgical procedure called ACL reconstruction is often needed. ACL reconstruction is usually successful and many athletes are able to return to their sport afterwards, but it also comes with some potential complications, like tearing the new ligament or the ACL of the other knee. Younger athletes are at a particularly high risk of re-injury: one study found that almost 25% of individuals under age 25 who returned to a high-risk sport suffered another ACL injury at some point in their career.

Undergoing physiotherapy will minimize the risk for re-injury

For an ACL reconstruction surgery to be a success, patients must allow enough time to heal and restore the normal muscle strength of the knee so it’s properly protected. This is why physiotherapy is absolutely necessary during this period to help patients get back to their pre-injury levels and not return to sports until they have completely recovered. A physiotherapist will guide patients through this entire process to keep the risk for future ACL injuries at a minimum. Most ACL rehabilitation programs will consist of the following:

  • Strengthening exercises to build back up weakened leg muscles
  • Stretching exercises to increase flexibility and regain normal knee mobility
  • Plyometrics, or jump training, which are crucial for patients recovering from ACL tears
  • Recommendations on how to modify activities to minimize the risk for future injuries
  • Exercises to improve neuromuscular control, which is the body’s ability to stay in a strong and stable position

ACL tears are serious injuries that can significantly impact an athlete’s career, but the situation can be made far worse if an additional injury is sustained after returning to play. This is why it’s crucial to complete your physiotherapy program and never return to play until you’ve been cleared. If you’ve torn your ACL and are scheduled for surgery, contact us to learn more or to schedule your first appointment afterwards.