Once you have been diagnosed with a partial or complete ACL tear, there are both non-surgical and surgical options. If the overall stability of the knee is intact, non-surgical options may be advised, including the use of a brace and physical therapy for a balance training and muscle strengthening program. The avoidance of cutting and pivoting movements is recommended. If these methods don't relieve symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Open and arthroscopic surgery may be performed, followed by rehabilitation program to address strength and mobility.
Patients usually take part in formal physical therapy after ACL reconstruction. The first few physical therapy treatments are designed to help control the pain and swelling from the surgery. The goal is to help you regain full knee extension as soon as possible.
The physical therapist will choose treatments to get the thigh muscles toned and active again. Patients are cautioned about overworking their hamstrings in the first six weeks after surgery. They are often shown how to do isometric exercises for the hamstrings. Isometrics work the muscles but keep the joint in one position. At Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center, we utilize aquatic therapy in the early stages of rehabilitation. This allows you to advance your progress more quickly and with less pain while allowing your new ligament to heal.
As the rehabilitation program evolves, more challenging exercises are chosen to safely advance the knee's strength and function. Specialized balance exercises are used to help the muscles respond quickly and without thinking. This part of treatment is called neuromuscular training. If you need to stop suddenly, your muscles must react with just the right amount of speed, control, and direction. After ACL surgery, this ability doesn't come back completely without exercise.
Neuromuscular training includes exercises to improve balance, joint control, muscle strength and power, and agility. Agility makes it possible to change directions quickly, go faster or slower, and improve starting and stopping. These are important skills for walking, running, and jumping, and especially for sports performance.
When you get full knee movement, your knee isn't swelling and your strength and muscles control are improving, you'll be able to gradually go back to your work and sport activities. Some surgeons prescribe a functional brace for athletes who intend to return quickly to their sport.
Ideally, you'll be able to resume your previous lifestyle activities. However, athletes are usually advised to wait at least six months before returning to their sports. Most patients are encouraged to modify their activity choices.
You will probably be involved in a progressive rehabilitation program for four to six months after surgery to ensure the best results from your ACL reconstruction. In the first six weeks following surgery, expect to see your physical therapist two to three times a week. If your surgery and rehabilitation go as planned, you may only need to do a home program and see your therapist every few weeks over the four to six month period.
Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center specializes in the complete recovery of people returning to sports.