Treating And Recovering From A Torn ACL

November 23, 2023

A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an injury that commonly affects athletes who participate in any sport or physical activity involving a lot of sudden stops, pivoting, or jumping. These movements can cause damage to the ACL because of stress on the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament is the strong band of tissue located in the knee that connects the shinbone to the thighbone. There’s usually a popping sensation when the ligament tears, followed by pain and swelling. It may be difficult to put weight on the affected knee without a feeling of instability. Women have a higher risk of experiencing ACL injuries but strengthening the muscles of the legs, hips, and lower torso may reduce this risk. Complications of an ACL tear include knee osteoarthritis. Recovery from ACL surgery can take up to six months and an additional three months to resume physically demanding sports and activities. Get to know tips on treating and recovering from a torn ACL now.

Physical Therapy

This form of therapy is usually prescribed after anterior cruciate ligament surgery, and it's an important part of recovery. A physical therapist will help patients rehabilitate their injured leg with a series of exercises. This type of therapy is also beneficial before surgery to maintain muscle tone in the quadriceps and minimize a loss of range of motion in the affected area. Physical therapy is required after the ACL reconstruction, and a therapist will show patients how to do the necessary exercises while they are recovering. The exercises performed in the first few weeks should increase the range of motion in the knee area without disturbing the reconstruction. A graft is used to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament, so knee movement has to be very controlled to avoid ripping the graft. It needs time to heal in place, even though the knee has to be rehabbed. The aim of selected exercises for the beginning weeks is the full extension of the knee and bends at a ninety-degree angle.

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Knee Braces And Supports

Knees braces and supports are very important to stabilize the knee and the grafted ACL throughout the rehabilitation process. Knee braces have settings, and they are positioned to hold everything in place, and the knee will only move as far as the settings allow. Some patients continue wearing knee braces after the injury is completely healed to provide added protection and decrease the risk of re-injury, especially athletes who resume sporting activities. Knee braces and supports like crutches and support stockings are an integral part of the healing process.

Crutches will be needed when you patients return home. They are used to take the weight off the knee while it heals. Some patients are able to put their full weight on the surgically repaired knee without crutches within two to three weeks after surgery. Patients who had work done on their knee in addition to an ACL reconstruction usually need four to eight weeks to be rid of crutches. Another support used during recovery and rehabilitation is special support stockings, which help keep the blood flowing in the leg, ankle, and foot. They also contribute to lowering the patient's risk of blood clots.

Read about the most common surgery used to treat a torn ACL now.

Arthroscopic Surgery

ACL tears are usually treated with arthroscopic surgery, especially if the patient is an athlete, or the injury is severe and in different areas of the knee. Most individuals need surgery to prevent further injury. The surgery doesn’t take place immediately after the injury. Instead, it is scheduled ahead of time to plan for treatment that will be necessary before and after the operation. This time also allows for the initial swelling and bleeding to decrease.

Arthroscopic surgery is minimally invasive and reconstructs the ligament with an instrument called an arthroscope. The new ligament may be constructed from tissue retrieved from a tendon in another part of the body or from a donor. The damaged ligament is removed and replaced with the healthy tissue, called a tendon graft. New ligament tissue will grow on the graft. Stitches are taken out within the first couple of weeks, and patients who have jobs with low activity are usually able to return to work. Rehabilitative therapy is undertaken after surgery to restore stability and function to the knee.

Continue reading to reveal the next method used to treat a torn ACL.

Rehabilitative Exercise Program

A rehabilitative exercise program is a course of therapy typically recommended after surgery. The exercises restore the knee's full range of motion, strengthen weakened muscles, and decrease pain and swelling. The physical therapist will determine an appropriate exercise routine based on their patient's fitness level, age, and the type of surgery they had. The rehabilitative exercise program is designed to straighten the knee and strengthen quadriceps muscles. Strengthening exercises are done in the first few weeks to work on restoring full range of motion in the knee.

Once patients can walk normally, they can go back to work. The doctor will let patients know the timeline for resuming their regular activities while they continue rehabbing their knee. Patients should be pain-free and on their way to resuming some of their favorite activities in four to six months. However, it may take patients a few more months to get back to their pre-injury condition. ACL rehab exercises can be done even after full mobility has been restored to keep the area in good shape.

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Cool Compress

An injury to the knee usually brings about pain and swelling soon afterward. Most doctors recommend the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) as first-aid immediately after the injury. Cold compression therapy is another method that can ease the pain and speed up the recovery process. A cold or cool compress is a part of both treatments.

Rest is required for healing of injuries in general. Swelling occurs after the injury because it’s a natural part of the healing process. Placing ice in a compress and applying it to the knee for about twenty minutes every couple of hours will slow down the cellular processes and reduce swelling. This is helpful right after the injury and during the recovery process after physical therapy sessions. A cool compress can ease the pain of an ACL tear and subsequent surgical procedures by dulling nerve endings. The application of coldness and compression also accelerates healing and helps patients regain range of motion faster. Laying down while placing the knee above the heart is elevation, which helps reduce swelling. Elevation also requires time off the feet, which means no weight on the injured knee.

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