ACL SPRAIN GUIDE
Physiobot. Joint pain questions, meet answers.
by Matthew Henderson, MPT
Masters of Physical Therapy
PROTECT THE LIGAMENT
Our main objective for ACL sprain recovery is simple - minimize strain on the ligaments. This allows inflammation to settle down and healing to begin.
With that in mind, minimize activities that exacerbate your pain (running, squats etc.) Basically, if it hurts - back off. That doesn't mean to stop moving altogether. Short, frequent walks on flat ground should be performed as tolerated.
ICE OR HEAT
If you notice swelling, go with ice instead of hot packs. This will help soothe the inflammation and stiffness. You can learn more about correct icing techniques on our Icing Instructional Guide.
Also begin a targeted ACL exercise program. Make sure you address strength, range-of-motion and flexibility. Luckily you don't have to figure out which exercises to perform, our PT's have done it for you! Just select the exercise option below.
Try to do your exercises a few times a day. You can cycle down as the pain diminishes.
WHAT TO EXPECT
If it is a mild injury then you should see significant improvement within just a few days.
BACK IN ACTION
Once the pain diminishes, slowly ease back into your normal daily and athletic activities.
A WORD OF CAUTION
To be clear, if the ligament(s) are injured beyond a certain extent, full recovery may require surgery. Once again, we highly recommend at least speaking virtually with a licensed clinician.
The evidence on knee braces is mixed and should not replace exercises. That said, many individuals report significant pain relief when utilizing a knee brace, particularly in the immediate period after an ACL sprain. There are a variety of knee brace types and it is important to pick the option that best fits your needs. For additional guidance, please view our Best Knee Braces of 2022 Guide.
Connecting with a joint care professional is the logical next step. Many individuals find this a bit daunting and delay care. But it is important to keep in mind that, generally speaking, the earlier treatment is initiated the more likely you are to experience a full recovery.
To help promote accessible care, our 2022 Joint Care Guide: Your Best PT Options in Telehealth, In-Home and In-Clinic is now available.
-- Check with your doctor or PT prior to initiating a new exercise program --
Range of Motion
Following a cruciate ligament injury the knee tends to swell, restricting the knee range-of-motion. This exercise methodically and safely address this tightness and ROM restriction.
Short Arc Quads
This exercise targets the end range of knee extension strength. This range often weakens following a knee injury, leading to knee buckling and pain.
The quadriceps are key to activities such as getting out of chairs without pain or difficulty. This exercise strengthens them without adding strain to the ACL.
Strengthening the outer hip to recover from an ACL sprain may seem strange. But research shows strong outer hips reduce knee instability and are an important part of recovery.
This exercise is a conservative approach to both improving hamstrings contraction AND your knee's range-of-motion.