The ACL or anterior cruciate ligament is an important ligament of the knee. Without it, you would not be able to do the things you do with your feet. The ligament is cross shaped– hence the name cruciate – and connects your upper leg and lower leg, allowing it to bend.
The ACL injury is one of the most common injuries in sports. It affects players in high impact sports where there are sudden stoppages from running and an abrupt rotation in position putting excessive strain on the ACL. Players in basketball, football, tennis, and soccer are the most commonly injured. Some of them include Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose and New England Patriots Tom Brady. The big problem with this injury is the length of time it puts the player out of commission, generally 6-8 months, and the need to go under the knife. But with recent advances in medicine, methods exist to help shorten players being benched.
Physical therapy is one such field in healthcare that has had a huge impact on ACL injuries. After going under surgery, physical therapy is immediately recommended to help the athlete get back on the court or field as soon as possible. This rehabilitation program comes in six phases and is designed to mimic the natural range of motion of the knee. It aims to “train” your knee muscles and ligaments to move again as if there was no injury in the first place.
The first phase, usually within the first few weeks after surgery, is aimed at reducing pain and swelling. Canes and crutches are generally discontinued unless otherwise indicated. Range of motion exercises are also initiated to help return the knee’s function as soon as possible.
The second phase is aimed at protecting the joint. As the injury and surgery has left the ACL relatively supple, the patient needs to develop surrounding muscles to prevent undue stress or strain on the ACL.
The third phase is to slowly regain the knee’s natural movement. By slowly incorporating strength training exercises and movement exercises for the knee, this helps the knee and its surrounding structures learn again how it is to move.
Phase four to five start with light activity and with the continuation of joint protection exercises. Phase six is the return to normal activity with monitoring up until the desired level of activity. Doctors in physiology and physical therapists have researched and developed this plan to shorten the recovery period of ACL injuries. ACL injuries back then would recover within 6-8 months, but with advances in medicine, it takes roughly over 10 weeks to get back in tiptop shape!