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Return to exercise after ACL surgery

Returning to Exercise After ACL Surgery

by Owen Campbell, PT, DPT, OCS1 Comment

Having an ACL reconstruction can throw a major wrench into your life. The surgery is complicated, and the rehab program can feel daunting. With a projected return to sport timeline hovering around 9 months to a year depending on your injury, it can feel like you are destined for a year of struggle.

This is a common concern before surgery, and a common fear in the first few weeks after surgery. Your knee is swollen, walking is a chore, and sometimes you even need to wear a big bulky brace. The good news is, with proper rehabilitation, you should be back to the gym in a much shorter timeframe.

“The gym” is a place, not an exercise intensity level. From the first post-operative week you can start right into upper body weightlifting, and core training. Lesser-used gym machines like the arm bike can give you a great cardio workout using just your arms. Also, exercises like sit-ups and planks can be performed in most post-operative protocols within a week or two after surgery.

As you progress through your rehabilitation, your physical therapist will start unlocking different levels of intensity, sort of like a videogame. As with most videogames you need to achieve certain things before getting to the next level, so too with a rehabilitation protocol. Your physical therapist may assess your leg strength at every visit, which will help determine what exercises you can do next.

A typical progression may not have you doing your normal squats in the first month, but by the second month you will most likely have at least a limited-range squat in your arsenal. The strength of the quadriceps muscle is the major sign of progress in an ACL rehabilitation program, and this can be affected by many different variables. Be sure to consult your physical therapist before progressing your training independently.

The key thing to know is that you should be progressing weekly. The good news is that most patients can:

  • First month: stay fit with upper body and core exercises
  • Second month: progress to lighter lower extremity exercises
  • Third month: progress based on a running dialogue with your PT of what you can and can’t do in the gym

While you won’t be cutting and jumping for a while, you can still get a great sweat going very quickly after ACL reconstruction. If you’ve recently had or have an upcoming ACL reconstruction surgery, contact an Athletico team near you who can help you get back to reaching your health and fitness goals.

Find an ACL Specialist Near You

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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Owen Campbell was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

Read more health resources related to these topics:

ACL injuryExerciseKnee PainSportsSports InjuriesACL injuriesACL rehabilitation

1 Comment

  1. Michael Cope

    After a total knee replacement I encountered knee fibroids that progressivly limited knee mobility. I had a 2nd surgery to break up the fibroids and it worked for a while but now the knee is once again becoming too stiff for me to even tie my shoes. I believe that focused ESWT can break up these fibroids (arthrogenic contractures). Do you have these treatments and if so is there one near me in DFW area. And which focused ESWT machine do you use? And do you agree this can be an effective treatment? I don’t want further surgery.

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