Although it’s the smallest of the four main knee ligaments, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) has an important job. It connects the thighbone to the shinbone at the center of the knee and keeps the leg stable while the rest of the body moves. An ACL sprain or tear occurs when these two bones manage to rotate too far in opposing directions or the knee bends the wrong way. Both a sensation that the leg is buckling with each step and outright pain are common.
Activities like basketball, football, skiing, and soccer carry high risk factors for these injuries. Seniors are also at an elevated risk.
The objective of physical therapy is reducing symptoms while boosting flexibility and strength. Continued exercise customized for each patient helps maintain the ability to do activities that caused pain or that were difficult. Physical therapy can help patients with ACL injuries in two ways.
Therapy After Surgery
Rehabilitation is necessary for patients who have surgery to repair an ACL injury. The type and length of the physical therapy required depends on the severity of the injury, how extensive the surgical repair was, and how consistently patients follow a physical therapy program.
Post-surgical therapy includes exercises for flexibility, strengthening, and endurance. For athletes, it adds training to increase coordination and agility.
Sometimes patients are able to avoid or postpone surgery for an ACL tear by completing physical therapy. Successful therapy strengthens the muscles that in lie in the front and back of the thigh and that support the knee.
For Some people, particularly the elderly, physical therapy provides enough stability to resume normal activities and avoid surgery. This generally takes four to six months. Others who have poorer results either decide to give up their athletic activities or schedule a surgical repair.
Physical therapists closely supervise patients with ACL injuries to make sure that all the exercises selected are part of the correct progression. Periodic visits to the physician who made the referral for therapy might be necessary to clarify questions about the intensity and length of the program.