Torn ACL? 3 Ways to Recover Faster

PT treatment for ACL

Torn ACL? 3 Ways to Recover Faster

Do you have knee pain? A torn ACL is a common, painful injury that puts the injured at high risk for long-term pain, mobility problems and secondary osteoarthritis. For full recovery, a torn ACLs almost always requires physical therapy (PT).

How Does the ACL Tear?

The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) crosses through the knee to stabilize the joint and connect the femur and tibia. The ACL can be damaged many ways, but it tears disproportionally in women and most frequently from car accidents, work accidents and activities like basketball, soccer and football.

An ACL tear happens when a cutting or shearing maneuver impacts the knee, such as during a sudden stop, direct blow, direction change, pivot or landing.

If you have a torn ACL, your symptoms may have included the sensation of popping or even an audible crack, followed by immediate swelling, pain and difficulty bearing your own weight. It’s normal for other areas of the knee to also show simultaneous damage, such as collateral ligaments and cartilage.

Three Grades of Torn ACLs Require Immediate Medical Attention

• Grade 1: ACL fibers are over-stretched and may have minor tears, but the knee joint is still stable. You may notice an ache that increases with activities, such as climbing stairs. With proper rest, appropriate bracing and safe musculoskeletal strengthening activities, recovery may take as little as 4-6 weeks.
• Grade 2: Moderate tearing has displaced ACL fibers and may require surgery and months of recovery. This injury is rare.
• Grade 3: Complete tearing of the ACL is a traumatic injury known as a rupture. The ACL is completely severed and provides no stability for the knee joint. Even if you decide to forgo surgery, recovery often takes months.

A torn ACL is not a sports injury to treat at home. Seek immediate medical attention to assess the internal structure with the Anterior Drawer Test or an MRI. Treatment options for a torn ACL typically require physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and sometimes surgery to restore movement and functionality.

According to the National Institute of Health, about 50% of ACL surgeries in young, active people can be skipped with structured rehabilitation. What does that look like?

3 Ways PT Rehab Will Help You Recover Faster from a Torn ACL

1. PT Helps Pain and Swelling for a Torn ACL
One of the most important benefits of physical therapy for a torn ACL is the reduction or complete elimination of pain. Your physical therapist will help you manage pain and swelling immediately and may recommend at home therapy, like the R.I.C.E treatment.

Rest: avoid moving the knee and consider using crutches or a splint when movement is required

Ice: apply a cold compress to the injured knee in twenty-minute periods, three times a day

Compression: wrap the injured knee to reduce swelling

Elevation: elevate the injured knee above the heart to reduce blood pooling

Physical therapy can also help keep pain at bay by immobilizing or bracing your knee joint with techniques like supportive taping.

2. PT Helps Restore Strength and Mobility for a Torn ACL
Supervised low-impact and no-impact workouts are important benefits of physical therapy for a torn ACL. Such workouts may not be safe to undertake at home. Physical therapy will give you a safe environment for exercise and a customized program, specific to your torn ACL, so you can work on your balance, muscle strength and conditioning.

As you regain strength in a torn ACL, your physical therapist may offer you balance exercises, like standing on a balance board, to help you regain proprioception (body awareness). Common exercises that support muscle strength and mobility for a torn ACL include:

• Quad sets
• Straight-leg rises
• Heel slides
• Long sitting towel calf stretches
• Supine hamstring stretches
• Ankle pumps

Your physical therapist may also give you assistive devices to strengthen your quadriceps and hamstrings while protecting the torn ACL, such as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, which can reduce atrophy of your quadriceps and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

By using therapeutic exercises and manual therapy techniques designed to support ACL tears, physical therapy can fast track the healing process, without risking further injury or progressive decline.

3. PT Can Include Plyometric Programs for Athletes with a Torn ACL

For athletes who experience a torn ACL, plyometric training may also be required to learn how to properly jump and land without incurring future injury. A plyometric program will begin mid-rehabilitation and specifically address joint mobility, gait and movement patterns, neuromuscular function and general physical fitness across four stages.

Stage 1: recover basic motor patterning, running gait and joint strength within 20% of pre-injury values (10-14 weeks)

Stage 2: develop functional strength, closed chain eccentric strength, bilateral power, unilateral eccentric control and continue to restore lower limb muscle imbalances (15-18 weeks)

Stage 3: restore high load movement quality, aerobic fitness and neuromuscular function within 10% of pre-injury values (19-22 weeks)

Stage 4: restore specific movement quality, fitness, skills and development movement volume (23-29 weeks)

Select Med1Care for Your Physical Therapy Needs
If you need physical therapy for a torn ACL, our experienced physical therapists can help you improve your mobility, decrease your pain and regain your quality of life.

We will partner with your physician to help you build a unique treatment plan to restore your movement and function with specialized exercises and education on low impact ways to manage daily living, relieve pain, improve mobility, prevent disability, strengthen the musculature and improve balance.

Call us at 419.866.0555 to schedule a free consultation.
Our specialists will help you chart a course forward.

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