ACL Rehab ExercisesHundreds of thousands of ACL injuries occur every year, primarily in athletes who participate in activities that require pivoting, lateral movement, or contact with other players. When the bones in the knee joint twist in opposite directions while there is weight on the leg, the ACL can become overstretched or torn. Depending on the extent of the injury, surgery is typically recommended in the case of a partial or full tear, especially for individuals who wish to continue participating in athletics.  

If you require knee surgery, your doctor will recommend ACL rehab exercises to help you regain full range of motion and increase stability in the knee joint. It’s important to try and closely follow the recommendations of your physical therapist because certain movements can actually inhibit your recovery from an ACL injury.

ACL Rehab Exercises to Avoid

Every athlete wants to recover as quickly as possible from any type of injury, but it’s important to have patience while your body heals. Even if you don’t experience significant discomfort or can push through the pain, these exercises should be avoided while recovering from ACL injury:

1. Weight-bearing before your body is ready

Although there is a point in the recovery process when it is acceptable to bear weight on the injured leg, doing this too soon can set you back. Use crutches or other assistive devices to help you stay mobile during the first couple weeks of recovery until your doctor clears you for the next phase.

2. Terminal knee extension

This quadriceps-strengthening exercise moves the knee through its full range of motion while a band or ankle weight provides resistance. Although it might be recommended as a strengthening exercise to help prevent other types of knee pain, it is not appropriate during most stages of ACL injury recovery.  

3. Full-range open-chain knee extension

In an open-chain exercise, the end of the limb is free to move in space. In the case of an ACL injury, this is the foot. For example, a standing squat is a closed-chain exercise, because the feet are on the floor, while a seated quadriceps extension is an open-chain exercise because the lower leg is free to move. When recovering from an ACL injury, it is important to avoid full extension in open-chain exercises that include resistance, because it will create too much force on the injured ligament.   

ACL Rehab Exercises to Include

Depending on where you are in the recovery process, your physical therapist may likely recommend exercises such as:

  • Hamstring and calf stretches
  • Passive knee extension exercises
  • Half squats
  • Partial lunges
  • Heel raises
  • Elliptical training
  • Resistance training to improve strength

The Game Ready blog has a more comprehensive list of which ACL rehab exercises to do during the various stages of recovery.  

Exercises for Preventing ACL Injury

After you have fully recovered, your doctor or physical therapist might recommend ongoing exercises to prevent reinjury. Even if you have not had an ACL injury, it’s a good idea to try to be proactive with these types of exercises:

  • Squats
  • Static lunges
  • Walking lunges
  • Single-leg deadlifts
  • Hip bridges
  • Chops and lifts
  • Balance exercises to improve stability
  • Agility exercises to practice good form

Be sure to arm up and stretch before participating in athletic activity and practice good alignment to avoid knee injuries.

Every injury is different, so it’s important to work closely with your healthcare providers in order to achieve the most effective recovery. If you are planning to have ACL surgery, prepare in advance by selecting a physical therapist who is a good fit for you and your injury. Download our free Checklist for Finding a Physical Therapist to help lead you through the process.

Checklist for finding a physical therapist