an acl injury being rehabilitated

Treating an ACL Injury with Physical Therapy

The ACL is one of the most important and complex parts of your body, and it can be devastating to suffer this type of knee injury. Whether it's a sprain, partial tear, or complete tear of the ACL, each injury type can require its own unique form of treatment through physical therapy. Here's what you can expect in the weeks following your ACL injury.

ACL Sprain

An ACL sprain is an instance in which your ACL has been overstretched but not necessarily torn. To treat a sprain, you won't always have to meet with a physical therapist. Using the time-honored RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) method, you should be able to quickly get back to your old self. If the sprain is more severe, you may want to see a physical therapist so he or she can help you stretch properly and work out the ligament through exercises that will focus on strengthening your damaged knee

ACL Tear

There are two types of ACL tears that can occur: a partial tear in which there has been some separation of the ACL tissue or a complete ACL tear in which the tissue fibers have completely separated. No matter which tear you've sustained, your doctor will have to decide if you will undergo an ACL surgery.

If surgery isn't required, you can expect that you will spend the next six to ten weeks in rehab with a physical therapist. He or she will work with you in the first couple of weeks to reduce swelling and manage your pain while trying to increase the range of motion in your knee through stretches. During the next couple of weeks, you will work on exercises that specifically focus on building back the strength of your ACL. In the final of weeks of recovery, you'll focus on building back the strength of your entire leg by doing exercises that focus on your main muscle groups in the leg, such as your quadriceps or hamstrings.

If your doctor determines that you do need surgery, your timeline to recovery has drastically lengthened because your physical therapist will have to take a much more conservative rehab to get you back on your feet. Instead of taking six to ten weeks to fully rehab your ACL, it may take anywhere from six to nine months to get you fully back to 100%. The treatment cycle is very similar to a nonsurgical rehab approach, but they will take a lot longer for each phase of the treatment.

ACL injuries can be a difficult injury to rebound from, but with proper treatment with a physical therapist, you can be back on your feet doing what you love to do most.

Last Updated: September 16, 2014