7 Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rehabilitation Exercises For You

What is the anterior cruciate ligament?

The anterior cruciate ligament is also known as the ACL. This ligament (strong connective tissue) is found within the knee joint and connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (the leg bone). The function of the anterior cruciate ligament is to connect the femur bone to the tibia bone and to limit the mobility of the knee joint to prevent excessive motions that may injure or damage the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament attempts to prevent forward sliding/dislocation of the tibia bone. This ligament has mechanoreceptor that provides it with sensitivity to changes in directional movement, knee joint position, and changes in speed and tension. It is one of the two cruciform ligaments, which together form an ‘X’ within the joint. Out of the four ligaments within the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament is the most prone to injury. 

Symptoms of anterior cruciate ligament injury:

  • Many people may hear or feel a ‘pop’ when the injury occurs
  • The knee may swell afterwards
  • It may feel unstable 
  • Become painful to weight bear/walk on
  • You may have poor balance and coordination 
  • Difficulty straightening and bending the knee fully

What can cause an anterior cruciate ligament injury?

Anterior cruciate ligament injury usually involves a stretching of the ligament or a complete or impartial tear. A ligament tear is the most common injury to the anterior cruciate ligament. If the anterior cruciate ligament is injured, it is likely the surround tissues of the knee can also be damaged. 

An anterior cruciate ligament injury is most likely to occur during high impact sports that involves lots of changes in direction, jumping, turning and landing. Such sports could be soccer, basketball, football, gymnastics, tennis, volleyball and skiing. Even an everyday activity such an awkward landing from a jump, an inward knee twist or something hitting your knee can tear the anterior cruciate ligament. Injury can also occur from wearing poor footwear that doesn’t fit or provide enough support.

Pain relief for your anterior cruciate ligament

The surrounding muscles of your knee are also likely to be injured and compensating for your anterior cruciate ligament. Apply a heat pack to either the front/back of your thigh, calf or front of the lower leg. You can also take a hot shower or a warm bath to ensure these muscles get heat. The heat allows your tense muscles to relax and increases blood circulation in the area to allow for muscle repair. Heat therapy should be limited to 15-20 minutes at a time, as to not aggravate your skin too much and accidentally cause superficial burns. Avoid using ice as pain relief, as it will cause further damage to surrounding muscles by causing further tightness and delays healing. Take anti-inflammatory medication as advised by your pharmacist to manage pain. 

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment for pain relief

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. A soft tissue occupational therapist will be able to provide pain relief through hands-on treatments such as trigger point therapy or myofascial massage to the surrounding muscles of the knee, which are likely to be injured or tightened after an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Soft tissue occupational therapy will help accelerate your recovery and get you back playing sports or return to your other exercises sooner. 

Anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation exercises

If you have just undergone an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery (or any other type of recent knee surgery), please consult with your exercise physiologist or medical professional regarding if it is safe for you to begin these exercises. These exercises are to help you regain stability within your knee and strengthen the surrounding muscles as to prevent future re-injury. These exercises should not be completed within 3 weeks of your surgery. 

If you experience any pain during these exercises, stop and consult with your Exercise Physiologist if you are at the appropriate rehabilitation stage to complete these anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation exercises.

Quadriceps stretch

Stand next to something you can hold onto for balance, such as a chair, table or wall.

  • Balancing on one leg, bend your other leg so that your foot is almost touching your buttock.
  • Use one hand to hold your foot within a bend position against your buttock.
  • You should feel a stretch at the front of your thighs.
  • Hold this for a minimum of 30 seconds. Swap legs.

Hamstring stretch

  • Begin by sitting on the floor, with your legs straight ahead of you.
  • Lean forward to try and touch your toes. 
  • You should feel a stretch at the bottom of your thighs. If you can’t touch your toes, that is okay! Just lean forward as far as you are able/enough to feel a gentle stretch. 
  • Hold this position for a minimum of 30 seconds and stop if you feel any pain.

Heel slide

  • Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs outstretched. Ensure you are wearing socks or have a towel under your foot on your injured leg. 
  • Slowly bend your injured leg, sliding your heel towards you. Slide your heel back to starting position.
  • Repeat 20 repetitions. 

Isometric quadriceps contractions

  • Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs outstretched. You may have a rolled-up towel under the affected knee. 
  • Without moving your affected leg, tense the muscles at the front of your thigh. If you are having difficulty with this, imagine you are pushing the bottom of your knee into the floor. 
  • Do not hold your breath and hold this muscle contraction for 10 seconds.
  • Complete 20 repetitions.

Isometric hamstring contractions

  • Begin by sitting on the floor with your unaffected leg outstretched, and your affected leg slightly bent.
  • Without moving your affected leg, tense the muscles at the back of your thigh. If you are having difficulty with this, imagine you are pushing your heel into the floor. 
  • Do not hold your breath and hold this muscle contraction for 10 seconds.
  • Complete 20 repetitions. 

Prone hip extension

  • Begin by lying face down on a bed (you may have a pillow for your head), with your legs straight. 
  • Lift your affected leg up into the air, keeping your knee straight.
  • Complete 20 repetitions.

Straight leg raise

  • Begin by lying on your back, with your uninjured leg bent. 
  • Raise your straightened affected leg to the same thigh level as the bent leg. 
  • Slowly lower your leg back down.
  • Complete 20 repetitions. 

If you are having any difficulty with the above anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation exercises, book in to see an exercise physiologist to assist you in completing these exercises correctly. 

See an Exercise Physiologist

Exercise physiologists use exercise as therapy, in other words, prescribe exercise as ‘medicine’. They will assist with preventing injury, managing injury, and improving physical functioning. Their therapy is ‘hands-off’ as they provide you with appropriate exercises and stretches individualised to your needs. They will be able to provide you appropriate and personalised anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation exercises to return you to normal functioning.

If you would like a personalised rehabilitation exercise program, book in to see our friendly and experienced Exercise Physiologist at Urban Health HQ. If you would like pain relief, book in to see our experience Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist at Urban Health HQ. You can make an appointment today or contact us by calling 0411 563 391 or emailing kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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