ACL Tear Treatment Without Surgery & Rehab Exercises

ACL Injury Treatment

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a tendon located within the knee that attaches the tibia (shin bone) to the femur (thigh bone). As you might imagine, this connective ligament is pretty darn important when it comes to stabilizing the knee and, more specifically, keeping the shin from extending too far relative to the thigh.

Therefore, when this ligament is torn—completely or partially—ACL tear treatment is no small matter. Treatment for ACL injury can stretch out for months and often involves surgery. Unfortunately, more and more athletes, especially of the female sex, must undergo ACL injury rehab each year. Indeed, some have even described it as an ACL tear epidemic.

But before getting worked up about whether your ACL injury treatment will include surgery, you should first get your knee checked out by a medical expert. I recently injured my knee while skiing and spent a very restless night stressed about the surgery I would need and the long recovery period, only to find out the next day I had only severely strained my knee. While a strain is by no means a small matter, it certainly involves less invasive and long-lasting recovery than ACL tear rehab.

If the professional determines you have indeed torn the ACL, he or she may recommend getting the pain, swelling, and inflammation that goes along with the injury to the knee under control, and possibly even engage in some ACL injury exercises before deciding upon a course of treatment. One can do so by following the trusty steps of the acronym RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
Whether or not surgery is needed largely comes down to two things:
  1. Injury severity
  2. Desired post-rehab activity level

Partial ACL tear treatment is far more likely not to involve surgery than a complete ACL tear.  Surgery is even more likely to be recommended if the ACL injury coincides with an injury to the other ligaments of the knee and/or cartilage. This is because blood flow to the region the ACL is located is limited. Thus, the body is unable to rehabilitate a torn ligament and surgery is often the likely treatment for ACL tears.

ACL Tear Treatment Without Surgery

Foregoing ACL tear surgery and instead opting to do ACL tear exercises to condition the surrounding muscles of the knee to compensate for the weakened ACL can suffice if you are willing to give up activities that require sudden movements such as cutting, pivoting, jumping, sliding, etc. Such activities greatly increase the risk of another ACL tear or other damage to the knee because the other muscles cannot fully account for the stabilizing effect of the ACL.

ACL partial tear treatment without surgery includes going through a number of ACL injury exercises and stretches to strengthen the associated muscles so that they are able to stabilize the knee without the tendon. ACL tear rehab is also aimed at restoring a normal range of motion to the knee.

Such ACL injury rehab exercises typically must continue regularly for three months. And after this rehab period, you must still avoid the aforementioned sports actions. A knee brace may also be helpful or even recommended for subsequent sports activity both for the peace of mind it affords and for the stability it provides.

Rehab for ACL Tear

ACL tear physical therapy following surgery is similar in that it involves a number of ACL tear rehab exercises aimed at helping you regain the full range of motion of the knee and strengthening and stretching the muscles of your legs.

But it differs in that the knee and likely either the patellar tendon or hamstring from which the new ACL was constructed will be healing. Plus, the surgery itself and the inactivity that is required immediately following surgery result in major weakening of the leg muscles. For this reason, the ACL tear rehabilitation period after surgery must extend over an even longer timeframe, typically ranging from six months to a year.

Physical therapy for ACL tears includes time spent on your own working through ACL tear exercises, as well as time spent with a physical therapist. It is important not to progress too quickly through these exercises for ACL tear. Doing so can result in re-injury, improper healing and ultimately ACL tear rehab setbacks.

Treatment of ACL tear will include a post operation brace immediately following the surgery as you will need to stay off your knee. It is also likely that when your ACL rehab exercises advance to a point where you are once again able to take part in athletic activities you will be recommended to wear a functional ACL brace.  

ACL Injury Prevention Exercises

ACL injury prevention exercises focus on developing the same sorts of skills that ACL injury exercises do: Strength, flexibility, agility, stability, etc. Developing these requires focus and self-awareness in regards to using proper form, especially when it comes to jumping, stopping, and moving quickly in the heat of a game.

Concentrating on this during practice will help your body to move more correctly naturally so that you are less injury-prone when your mind is focused elsewhere during competition. The Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) recommends focusing on the following as you perform drills and repeating them as a mantra:

  • Chest high and over knees
  • Bend from the hips and knees
  • Knees over toes
  • Toes straightforward
  • Land like a feather

It is important to work on building strength in your hips and thighs and especially the hamstrings for women. Warming up and stretching before engaging in strenuous activity is also important for ACL injury prevention.

For more tips on using proper form as well as some illustrated ACL injury prevention exercises, check out the article “ACL Injury Prevention Tips and Exercises: Stay Off the Sidelines!"

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