ACL Prehab: Increase the Chances of Returning to Your Sport

An estimated 250,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgeries are done each year.  Unfortunately, surgery does not guarantee a return to playing sports. Rehabilitation after surgery is a grind.  And only 63% of athletes return to their pre-injury level of sport.  Thankfully, pre-surgery rehab or “prehabilitation” will accelerate your recovery after surgery.  Read on to learn how ACL prehab will help get you back to playing your sport.

Get Back to Playing with ACL Prehab

A 2016 study lead by researchers at the University of Delaware compared return to sport rates in athletes who underwent extended prehab to those who did not.  All athletes completed the same post-surgical rehab program. After surgery, athletes were tracked for 2 years. A significantly higher % of athletes returning to their pre-injury sport completed extended prehab (72%) compared to those who did not complete the extended prehab (63%).

What is ACL Prehab?

Extended prehab focuses on decreasing knee swelling, restoring range of motion, normalizing your walking pattern, and returning at least 70% of your strength.  The progressive prehab program also includes retraining your balance.  You are advanced only after meeting specific criteria.  You are finally cleared for surgery once all these criteria are met.

The exercises that follow are a few that we prescribe at BSR.  Perform your exercises daily for the best results.  Remember, everyone progresses at a different pace.  Some athletes meet all milestones in just a few weeks.  Others take a few months.  Your physical therapist will help you determine the best way to progress your program so you can get back to playing.

Range of Motion ACL Prehab Exercises 

You don’t want to develop knee stiffness after your ACL surgery.   This leads to a slow and frustrating recovery.  By restoring full knee range of motion before surgery, you will significantly reduce your chances of running into this problem.

Fully straightening your knee is crucial for your recovery.  Be diligent with these exercises.  Perform range of motion exercises at least 3 times per day until your mobility is equal to your other knee.

Strengthening Prehab Exercises

The strength of your quadriceps muscle is one of the biggest keys to you getting back to playing sports after your surgery.  It is common for quadriceps weakness to persist for 1, 2, or even 10 years after ACL surgery.  Start exercising this muscle early!  Straight leg raises and partial squats are not the most glamorous exercises, but they are a first step in the right direction.

Neuromuscular Training Exercises

You should be able to easily stand and balance on your injured leg without difficulty. Before advancing to high-level sporting activities, you will need single leg balance and stability.  Get good on 1 leg before you go in for your surgery.

Begin neuromuscular training after you have full range of motion, no limp, and good strength.  Start by practicing single leg balance for 30 consecutive seconds.  Then your physical therapist will advance you to more challenging exercises like band kicks or drills on a wobble board.

Start Your ACL Prehab Today

Don’t put off your rehab until after your surgery.  Your rehab starts before your surgery!  We have watched too many good athletes neglect this phase of their rehab and never return to their sport.  Get a head start with the ACL prehab exercises in this article as soon as possible after your injury.  ACL injury recovery is a marathon full of ups and downs.  Be proactive from the start.

For help getting started, call our office to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors of physical therapy.  We have been helping injured athletes of Southern Ocean County get back to their sport since 2007.


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