Our complete ACL rehabilitation exercise list (phases 1 through 4)

ACL Rehab Exercises List

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are a common injury, with as many as 200,000 occurring every year in the U.S. These knee injuries often occur during sports. For instance, a sudden stop or change in direction while running can injure your ACL. In many cases, serious ACL injuries need surgery to repair the ligament if it has been torn. 

Physical therapy can be very effective after ACL surgery. One study shows that 100% of ACL patients in the group treated with physical therapy were able to regain normal knee extension. It also reports that 97% of the patients in this group achieved normal knee bending. Therapeutic exercises are the most common technique therapists use for ACL rehab.

In this article, we’ll share a list of exercises physical therapists typically recommend in four of the ACL rehabilitation phases. We’ll also share some tips for speeding up your recovery.

Important note: These exercises are most effective when performed under the supervision of a professional physical therapist. Talk to a professional before you attempt to perform these exercises on your own.

Phase 1

The first phase of your ACL rehabilitation will begin immediately after surgery. Typically, it lasts for about two to four weeks, depending on your progress. The exercise list recommended for this phase of your ACL rehab could include: 

  • Quadricep sets.
  • Prone hangs.
  • Heel slides (seated or prone).
  • Straight leg raises.
  • Hamstring sets.
  • Cycling.
  • Isometric ab exercises.
  • Range-of-motion exercises.
  • Gait training.

Phase 2

The next phase of your ACL rehabilitation usually begins between two and six weeks after surgery. In most cases, phase 2 of your rehab will cover a period of three to five weeks. Its goals will be to improve knee range of motion and continue to build core and leg strength. A few of the exercises you might be asked to do in phase 2 of rehab are:

  • Squats.
  • Partial lunges.
  • Step-ups.
  • Bridges.
  • Balance activities.
  • Hamstring curls.
  • Biking.

Phase 3

Your therapist will likely have you start using a phase 3 ACL rehabilitation exercises list six to eight weeks post-surgery. One goal of this rehab phase will be to improve your ability to do dynamic movements. It can also aim to build your coordination and endurance. Exercises that might be included in phase 3 include: 

  • Squats.
  • Three-way lunges.
  • Step-downs.
  • Progressive single leg loading.

Phase 4

In 12 to 16 weeks after surgery, most people will be ready to start phase 4 of their ACL rehab. The main goal of this phase is to ensure your knee is functioning normally. Another goal set during this phase could be to ensure you’re ready to return to playing sports. Your phase 4 ACL rehabilitation exercises list could include options like: 

  • Cutting and pivoting drills.
  • Return to sport programs.
  • Progressive strengthening.

Tips for speeding up your ACL rehabilitation

Here are some things you can do in addition to exercise as you work to recover from ACL surgery:

  • Prepare your home for recovery before your surgery Take a look around your house. Move any objects that might block your path as you walk from one room to another. If you have multiple floors in your home, consider sleeping downstairs for the time being.
  • Avoid physical activity for a few weeks — If possible, take a few weeks off work after your surgery. You may not even be able to walk with crutches yet, and putting pressure on your knee can cause inflammation. Even if you have a desk job, it’s beneficial to spend some time with your leg elevated when you first start to recover.
  • Talk to your physical therapist about bracing — A brace holds your knee in place during recovery, allowing your body to heal without interruption. Although not everyone needs to wear a brace, some people wear them for several years. Even if your doctor doesn’t recommend a brace, your physical therapist may recommend that you wear one while participating in treatment.
  • Follow your at-home treatment plan — The therapeutic exercises your physical therapist walks you through during your sessions are only one part of your overall treatment plan. They will likely instruct you to perform exercises at home as well. Follow their instructions, as they may help to speed up your recovery time and prevent further complications, like limping.

Find help with your ACL rehabilitation at Armor Physical Therapy

Are you looking for a rehabilitation team that doesn’t just rely on ACL exercise lists? Our Armor Physical Therapy team is just what you’re looking for. We offer free screenings to jump-start your post-surgical rehab. Our team also excels at building personalized therapy plans that use multiple evidence-based techniques. 

Contact us today for more information about how we can help with your recovery or to schedule an initial appointment.

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