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ACL Injuries and Return to High-Level Basketball

by Athletico35 Comments

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Jeff Stein, PT, DPT, MS, ATC, who is the team physical therapist for the Chicago White Sox and was the Head Team Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist for the Purdue Men’s Basketball Team from 2006-2012. Stein helped rehabilitate All-American basketball player Robbie Hummel of Purdue and NBA player Carl Landry after ACL injuries, among many other athletes.

Derrick Rose had done it thousands of times before, a simple jump stop for a shot or pass, but this one was different. With one wrong movement, his season was over. On that fateful night, Rose tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in his knee, and immediately the questions arose. How long will he be out? Would he ever be the same? Is his career over? The good news is, despite the abrupt ending to the season, with the surgical repair and the rehabilitation Rose undergoes with the Bulls’ athletic trainers and physical therapists, the odds are good that he’ll regain his form and be the MVP-caliber player he was before.

Rose’s recovery began the day he was diagnosed with his injury. Prior to surgery, the sports medicine staff worked to decrease the swelling around his knee and regain as much motion and strength as possible prior to surgery. Prehab (rehab before the surgery) is an essential component to having a successful outcome from an injury like an ACL tear. The better an athlete is going into surgery, the better he or she is coming out.

Following surgery, head team physician and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Cole, stated that the normal time frame for an athlete of Rose’s caliber to recover from ACL surgery is about 8 to 12 months. Dr. Cole also revealed that the rehab would begin with a knee focus and proceed through whole body conditioning, performance training, and risk prevention strategies.

So what does a general ACL rehab consist of?
The early months of rehab from ACL reconstruction are very similar to the prehab undergone prior to surgery. The rehab involves stretches, exercises, and treatments to decrease post-operative swelling and stiffness to allow the knee to move through its full and normal range of motion. As the motion progresses, strengthening exercises are implemented to enhance the strength and responsiveness of the muscles around the knee. Normal gait is usually attained within the first month, and full motion takes a couple of months, but this can vary widely.

About 3-4 months post-surgery, as motion and strength improve, an athlete will be able to work back into some basketball-specific activities on a limited basis. Activities like cardiovascular conditioning, stationary ball handling, and free-throw shooting will get the athlete back on the court and motivate him or her to keep pushing towards a successful full return.

The Fun Part
Once an athlete regains strength, measured by comparing the injured leg to the uninjured leg, the fun part of rehab begins, which incorporates functional movements that will help the athlete prepare for return to a dynamic sport like basketball. Plyometric activities like running, jumping, and cutting will be gradually introduced by the athletic training staff back into the athlete’s repertoire. Athletes usually progress into these activities around 4-5 months post-op.

ACL Injuries and Return to High-Level BasketballThis is both an exciting and nervous time for the athlete. Most athletes are excited to return to more sport-specific activities but are understandably nervous about the possibility of re-injury. A skilled athletic trainer will carefully guide the athlete through this time by gradually increasing the difficultly and intensity of the drills. By doing a gradual progression, the athlete regains both strength and confidence.

As the athlete regains the speed and explosiveness he or she is known for, they will gradually be re-introduced into team drills and play.  Most athletes are able to work back into all activities between 5 to 8 months after surgery. Even though the athlete returns to team practices and play, the rehab is still not complete. As Dr. Cole stated, it usually takes 8 to 12 months to return to a high level of competition and probably more to get back to the level to which an athlete is accustomed.

ACL injuries are life-altering events, but with the advances in surgical and rehabilitative techniques available to all athletes from Derrick Rose to the weekend warrior, they do not have to be career ending. Recent examples of athletes that have returned to form include Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, and All-American basketball player Robbie Hummel of Purdue.

The rehabilitation and techniques that Derrick Rose will receive are the same that are available to all athletes through the skilled athletic trainers and physical therapists at Athletico.

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  1. Juan Carlos Sotomayor

    Hello my name is Juan Carlos and im writing just because last april 30 i suffered the same injury as Derrick Rose. I have a tear ACL and a tear Meniscus in my left knee. I felt like this was the end of my life just because im not only a basketball fan, i consider basketball my entire life. I been playing this sport since im 6 and im now 21,because of this i been able to play at a high level always and every time i step in the court i play aggresive, hustling and phisical basketball. Even dough Derrick is not my favorite basketball player i learn to aprreciate what hes doing and try to fallow him on every step of his recovery. this wednesday june 13 im going to start the journey by my self because im going to be in surgery trying to fix not only my left knee, but at the same way my whole life.

  2. esj2

    I am esj2, now entering second month of post op. I’m walking with no limp as of the moment and I guess that is a good thing. I am 30 and still love to play basketball. I play at least 2-3 times a week prior to surgery, so yes, basketball is a way of life for me. To all who has encountered the same injury, We are all lucky to have the means to have it repaired plus the medical advances of today gives us the opportunity to get back in the game. I live you all with one quote “ENDURE, GO SLOWER, ARRIVE SOONER!”



  3. esj2

    And now I am on my 2nd month. Slowly, light cardio is back as well as walking endurance. it brings me great joy to know that the leg ain’t failing me when i am walking long distances. Since I got the replacement from my hamstring, going down stairs have been a challenge as I have to take it one step at a time but going up is back to normal:) Soon i will go back to the battlegrounds, probably in about 4 – 6 months more. I heard that the operated leg will usually become the stronger one so what I am doing is exercise them both. To the young ones, if you are really planning to play ball for life consider preventive training and strengthen your quadriceps and hamstring. Doing things like step ups, sqauts and leg raises will help build strong legs and never forget to eat healthy. being heavy will add stress to our knees. peace!

  4. esj2

    I’m doing light cardio on a stationary bike, finally! lose some belly fat time:) Cant wait to get back in the game:) and wondering how i will adapt. definitely need to tweak it up a bit as i am also aging. Forearm strength will but to to emphasis as my speed have totally decreased:p

  5. esj2

    hello acl friends! Remember not to push the bad and good leg so hard during therapy. Not to the point of exhaustion to be exact. Recently i fatigued my lower back and Achilles. Not a fun thing to deal with as it hampered my ability to do my routine.

  6. esj2

    it gets tougher and tougher. my flexibility has reached the 120 degree mark but the hamstring is still weak. i can only lift my leg to 90 degrees on my own. I’m entering second month of post op right now. can not wait to get back but I choose to play it smart and go follow the timeline. Any other people up in here???

  7. esj2

    flexibility is back to normal! yipee:)
    Running will be the next step to recovery and I cant wait to do that again:) To all you people up i here. Stay positive, eat right and exercise well. Peace!

  8. Kaleb moga

    I recently tore my acl, mcl, and meniscus during a pick up basketball game. Like alot of you guys basketball has always been a major part of my life. Thanks for sharing your stories and giving me a little inspiration.

  9. esj2

    Kaleb, key is religiously. I recently stopped therapy and guess what??? it weakened fast. You know the muscles around you hip get weak fast. Make sure you stick to the program for faster results. I had no choice but to stop it because my schedule did not allow me but I will be back soon. “Mamba Mentality” – Conquer the odds and you will be back soon.

  10. Karlo jeff

    Hi guys. Im 23 yrs old and i recently tore my right acl with a bad fall playing basketball just 2 days ago. I just recently graduated and was just about to start to work the day after my injury. Now im wearing a leg brace so the other ligaments will heal first. I dont think i can have surgery right now because i cant afford it and I think my parents wont support surgery. So im stuck with probably just rehab just enough for me to walk. I love sports but for now i cant do anything. My goal now is to work and save money for my surgery. Do you guys have any advice for me? thanks

  11. coby jones

    I’m coby Jones and I tore my acl 14 months ago and I can tell im not as fast and I can’t jump as high as I used to is that normal?

  12. Eddy

    I am 31 and had my ACL surgery five and a half months ago. I have studied extensively on the subject of performance as I played basketball 3-4 times a week. It seems that peak performance will not be achieved for two years post op. If properly rehabbed you should be back to 90-95% in a year. The key seems to be continuing to strengthen the leg. Just last week my doctor cleared me to play basketball in competitively. He does tell me I am now high risk, but the leg is strong and the ACL is strong. I am nervous about re-injury, but you have to get back on the court to get your head right. My rehab consisted of going to the gym 3-4 times of week and running, biking, lifting weights, and sprinting on the court and shooting by myself. We’ll see how it goes, but jumping currently is not a strong point of the injured leg.

  13. Amer

    I’m 23 years old. I torn my ACL on August 5th of this year. It was one of the most traumatizing events to ever occur in my life. I say this because basketball keeps me sane, literally. So not being able to hoop and be active in general has given me anxiety and depression. I had my surgery on September 24th and things are finally looking up. I am in my third week of physical therapy and am only using one crutch. My doctor said I should be walking without crutches in the next couple of weeks. I’ve decided once I am cleared to play again I will just workout everyday to strengthen my legs as much as possible. I plan to return to competitive basketball on September 3rd, 2013 (my birthday). For any of you who just suffered a torn ACL injury, just keep your head up and know that the body is an amazing thing and it heals itself. You just have to remain positive and do everything your doctor/therapist says. Peace

  14. Carringtonmatias

    I’m 13 years old and tore my ACL last Nov. and had my surgery Dec. 3rd. I have been playing bball from the age of 4. Basketball is a very big part of life, I went to the gym 5 days a week, played varsity ball in the 7th grade, and played travel ball since I was 11, had 8 letters of interest from 9 colleges. I thought my career was over when I tore my ACL,but I had a pity party for abut a week after surgery and I rehab everyday. I was walking in about a week, starting running in my 3rd month, and working on stationary ball handling drills a free throws. I played in my 1st tournament in my 5th month. I was slow and nervous but I pushed through and worked harder. The biggest problem I had to deal with was to overcome my fear of a re-jury. I am 10 months out and I have full range of motion, speed, and my jumps are back. I will be trying out this season for the girls varsity basketball team at a new school. It was hard and at times it’s very difficult because your always have that reminder in the back of your head. My knee is not 100% because after a long practice, workout, or game, my knee and quads are sore. Hopefully, in about another 6 months I will be 100%. If you want something bad enough, you will work your butt off through harsh pain to move forward towards your dreams. Re-hab is the key back to the courts; shortcuts will only hinder your healing 100%

  15. Robert

    I tore my ACL at 14 playing football and had surgery at 16 yrs old. My dr wanted to wait bc I had lots of growing still. I was up n walking normally 2 weeks after surgery n running around 5 weeks after surgery. I attribute my super quick recovery bc I was so young. I tore my ACL again at almost 20 while playing basketball, I was hit on the side of my knee n tore right through my replacement. Had surgery the following month n again went back to playing basketball way too early n re-tore my ACL (3rd) only 2 months after surgery!! Lucky I’m in great shape n now have my orthopedic surgeon on speed dial. Had surgery for the 3rd time n unfortunately had also damaged my MCL, I was scheduled for surgery only 1 week after my injury! Again I am recuperating extremely fast. Was just fitted for a custom brace n it’s an amazing brace! Better than my previous 2 braces (they were all custom made) bc materials are now better n lighter. I’m hoping to play again soon but being much more careful this time!

  16. Garrett

    I had a knee inscadent back in 7th grade playing basketball, I went to the doctors and everything was fine. I played basketball/baseball and tackle football for 2 more years. I’m 15 now and a torn my ACL playing baseball. Apparently, I had a torn ACL for 2 years! Crazy right? I had surgery on July 8th and today is December 3rd. I played basketball with friends at 3 months post surgery and was perfectly fine. Would it be safe to say that my knee is ready for full basketball on a team? I’m a little more than 5 months post surgery and have been doing PT since. Please leave your response to this email: Thanks all!

  17. Marquis Watson

    My name is Marquis Watson from Corinth, Ms and I go to school at Biggersville High School. I tore my acl on September 14, 2014, I have already been in rehab for 4 months, but we are the 1a defending state champions, but a part of the team is hurt and it’s me,and I’am working my ass off, just to get back on the court with the people I love. I’am going through some much, I just want to be the first person to play in four months, and give it my all. You know don’t go overboard,but enough for my team. I have already missed my football season, and I don’t know what to do if I miss my basketball season. Please give me some advice , if u was me .

  18. Dave Heidloff

    Honestly, the best thing is to go back when you’re ready. 4 months is pretty quick to get back onto the court. Ultimately, that timing is a decision to be made by you, your doctor, and any other medical staff you’re working with. The last thing you want to do is get back out there before you have good strength and stability in your knee. You don’t want to reinjure yourself or have to hold back because of a lack of stability. It can be hard to be on the sidelines, but trust me, leaving the sidelines only to have to return because you weren’t patient is even worse.

  19. Amr

    I had surgery using an allograft or donor graft December 18 and the doctor is going to clear me at the end of March I Asked my therapist and she said its possible but it’s not normal but she said that I have progressed unlike anybody else she seen and that she is amazed so remember if you keep trying you will succeed.

  20. Dan

    Hi guys, really nice to read all your comments! I’m 17 and a few weeks ago I dislocated my knee in a basketball match and tore my acl,mcl and my meniscus and also had a small impact fracture to my femur!! Have surgery in a few weeks and then a long rehab! Can’t imagine how boring a year of no basketball will be!!

  21. Cameron Keeley

    Hi everybody all your success stories have motivated me even more to get back to basketball! I’m 15 and on may 28 2014 i tore my ACL MCL and meniscus in the early minutes of an AAU tournament game, now 1 1/2 months later I’m already allowed to use the elliptical machine and my leg gets stronger everyday!, I’m not sure my exact time table for return to varsity basketball but i can’t wait until the day and can throw the ball down again!

  22. Emily Garza

    It has been 5 months since my surgery and I can’t wait to get back on the court. But I am afraid of injuring my knee again since the injury occurred in the last game of the season; a playoff game against Iola High school. I am 16 and about to be 17. To play basketball in Texas Tech University is my goal for college but it’ll be difficult with this process of regaining the strength of the ACL and the muscles within 8 to 12 months. I trust this method is correct, I just wish my knee could heal faster.

  23. Lauryn M

    Well, took them a while to diagnose it. First they said it was just a sprain and I’d be better by monday.
    Well it was moday, I put on a sleece brace and went to practice. Pop.
    Maybe the worst part was that it happened three days before season. Anyway, 3 weeks later and a MRI and today I sat in a doctor office listening to him tell me what all of us injured buddies hated to hear.
    I tore the blasted acl along with part of the meniscus. Boom, there went my season. Sophmore on varsity, brought up last year, ready to show everyone how hard I worked this summer.
    Hey, uv got 2 more years!
    Everyone says that. My problem is that its one less year than I had.
    But, we’re basketball players for a reason, right? No way in heck am I giving up there. Im gonna come back with the best dang shooting skills they’ve ever seen, and since Ill have three months to prepare before next season, I’ll regain my old skill sets too. If anything we can only come back stonger.
    Stupid lemons make some pretty darn good lemonade (:

  24. Natalie M

    Hi guys my name is Natalie and I just tore my ACL on Nov the 1st. I’m 16, a junior at Horizon high . I tore my ACL playing basketball Picking Up on defense I felt a pop/twist on my knee . My goal is to go back my senior year its all I want. The only thing is that my parents aren’t really supportive with the idea of surgery, so every night I’m thinking to myself that my life is over, but all I’m wondering is that can i go back to playing basketball without surgery & just doing treatments?

  25. Antonio Vargas

    Hey guys

    I am Antonio and i tore my acl and meniscus on my right knee playing basketball. A guy hit me right on the side of the knee as we were both going for the ball. I have been playing since i was 6 and i am in a big leauge here in new orleans. I also do Crossfit for the last 2 years so i have been in great shape. Really bummed on what happen and my surgery begins Jan 8. Any words of support or advice would be great. I wish everyone here the best and hope a speedy recovery

  26. Madison

    Hello, my name is Madison. I tore my ACL and had a slight tear in my meniscus of my right knee. I’m only 14 and this has ruined my freshmen year for basketball, but I like to say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! I tore it last August and had my surgery in October, I’m on my 4th month and I’m running and doing slight agilities my appointment is on Monday. I don’t have a lot of muscle back, but I’m trying. It’s a hard process and you have to really try but I’m sure that if I can do so can anyone else! So work hard and finish strong!

  27. suyog

    Hey I’m suyog, and I tore my acl last June playing soccer. At that time I though it was just a sprain so I just put on a cast for a week and then went back to playing basketball and other stuff. About a week or two later my leg kept hurting and I went to see a doctor and we found out it was an acl tear after and x Ray. I got the surgery in late August and started therapy about october. Now I don’t do therapy anymore but I still have to do the exercises at home. Now I can run for a while without my leg hurting. Tried playing soccer and basketball again and that’s the only real challenge I have. When I try to make sharp moves my leg stings a little and I can’t play long so I haven played it in a while. My doctor says I might be able to fully play sports in mid May. Decided to take it easy until then because don’t want my acl to be torn again. Good luck to everyone else recovering from acl too! Hard long process but don’t push yourselves trying to do sports before your body can do so!

  28. anurag sharma

    i recently tore my Right ACL and meniscus on Jan 29th 2015 in a national tournament. I got very disappointed. i am not able to walk properly my knee was popping,slipping and causing acute pain.I thought that it was end of my career. later diagonised with orthopedician, i got operated for $4110
    it was a painful after surgery. only one week over. i can only bend my knee to 75*.
    I am doing regular rehab exercises given by physiotherapist.hope it sets in short period and i #Return to the sports quickly 🙂

  29. kyle novem

    Hey im15 years old i play basketball and have injury in my right nkee i think i have an acl injury my nkee is swelling in my true play of basketball what i do to perform well with no surgery im a filipino

  30. P Krishnamoorthy

    I am 52 years old, due an accident at a stable position my right leg ACL was damaged – fully torn. ACL reconstruction was done in August 2015. I have recovered to a great extend after physio and gym exercises. muscle loss has been rebuilt to 95%. But still i have a discomfort and sometimes mild tolerable pain at a particular movement. Especially in the back of of the knee. What is the reason for this. What should i do to overcome this.

  31. JP Moreland

    I tore my ACL and sprained 6 other things (including my MCL) with no meniscus damage. I am 13 and tore it in late February, having the surgery in early April. I am 1 month in and walking with little to no limp. I was playing basketball for school team when it happened and a kid ran up and tackled me because they were losing and had to foul. The recovery has been okay to this point and I haven’t been in serious pain since the week after the surgery. I was off crutches as soon as the therapists told me I could be and I’m basically almost where I was pre operatively, it’s just that my quads and thighs aren’t strong yet. I’ve even been outside doing some standstill drills that don’t involve pivoting. I used to have a negative attitude but now I’m ready and waiting for next winter, when I’ll hopefully be able to step on the court again.

  32. Aswin Nayak

    hey guys i am 2nd month of post op and i hav tore both my acl and meniscus of right knee.i hav gotback my flexibility but need to seriously work on strength.if could get some tips i would be really grateful as we dont get proper medical facility here

  33. Hayes

    I’m 14 I tore my ACL, my meniscus, and stretched my MCL while I was doing a basketball drill in practice. I just had surgery November 21 so it’s be almost 2 weeks. I first torn my ACL and meniscus in October it was a very hard time when I found out but I didn’t find out till a about a month after I did it bc I went to the ER as soon as it happened and they said it was just a stretched MCL but I went back to my doctor bc it just didn’t feel or look like just I stretched my MCL. I went home and had a pity party for my self bc my ball team that I play for is such a great team we are undefeated and are going to our 2 state tournaments and I’m not going to get to play. I was a stater, so going from playing every game to being on the side line for more then half the season was very hard. I have been starting on varsity since I was in 6th grade (I’m in 8th grade now so miss this season is sad for me) but I plan to work hard in PT and on my own to come back stronger and better then I was. Has of right now my doctors have told me I can’t put any weight on my right leg. But I have been good in PT they say. After reading all these comments it has helped me to see that this isn’t a end it is a being.

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