The better you move and the stronger your knee and leg before surgery, the stronger and more functional you’ll be after surgery—and even two years later, research shows.
Work to control swelling, walk without a limp and fully straighten (extend) your leg before and after surgery. Follow the guidelines for prehabilitation and rehabilitation.
Less is more the first 10 to 14 days after surgery. Allow your body to recover. You can’t get ahead overdoing it the first few weeks.
Don’t rush off your crutches. Walk normally without pain before getting rid of them.
20 percent of your rehab success is the right program and guidance. 80 percent is you doing the work in the program.
If you can, use ankle weights, bands and bikes at home or go to a fitness center with this equipment. Be sure to follow your rehab program and guidance.
Your dedication and compliance to your home exercise program is key to successful rehabilitation. You want your reconstructed knee to serve you for a lifetime. Work with your rehab team on achieving your goals.
ACL rehabilitation takes time: on average eight to nine months. Yours can take longer, especially if your goal is to return to sport.
Forget the number of months post-surgery you are. Base your progress on how you function at each phase, not time.
All recovery timelines, even those mentioned on this site, are estimates. Everyone progresses differently.
ACL grafts are weakest 5 to 12 weeks after surgery. You may feel stronger, but your knee is months from full recovery. Remain cautious.
Measure your progress in each phase by strength and function testing by a trained medical professional. You can’t do it yourself.
Gaining good kneecap (patellar) mobility after surgery can shorten your rehabilitation. See the exercise in Phase 1.
Quad activation is key early in rehab. Neuro stimulation (NMES) is ideal for this early in your post-surgery physical therapy sessions. Home NMES units can cost as little as $50.
Focus on short-term goals for long-term gains. Young athletes in particular do well with goals.
Don’t compare yourself to others who’ve had ACL reconstruction. Your body is different. Your surgery might have been different. You have your own strengths and obstacles.
Your athletic ability will return. Return to sport is a marathon, not a sprint. Stick with the plan.
Frustration is normal. Be patient.
Strength is crucial for power and stability with athletic movements for the rest of your playing career. Continue your strength exercises throughout—and after—your return-to-sport program.
Agility and return-to-sport drills are more fun and feel like progress. But don’t neglect strength work as you begin these (see insight 19).
Testing by a trained professional is critical for your return to your sport. Accurate monitoring can reduce the risk of retearing your ACL as well as injury to your other knee.
Learn and master the correct way to jump, change direction and decelerate. These can help you avoid a retear.
Learning to decelerate is difficult but important in later phases of rehabilitation.
Hip and core strength are vital for functional knee control for return to play. Don’t underestimate how your knee, leg and body work together.
Endurance exercises are also important. Fatigue increases your risk of re-injury.
If you’re a student-athlete, include your school athletic training staff in your rehabilitation.
Patience again: Even if you pass the tests in each rehabilitation phase, your knee may be unready for competition. It’s important to start with lower-stress training or practice before attempting full competition.