How To Strengthen Your ACL and Prevent Injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a primary ligament located in your knee, and ACL tears and sprains are some of the most common knee injuries that physical therapists treat. On average, up to 200,000 Americans suffer an ACL injury each year through playing sports or accident-related trauma. 

Others injure themselves doing everyday activities that are neither sports- nor accident-related. Any way you slice it, those are significant numbers.

Billy Reilly, MS, PT, and Paul LaRosa, MS, PT, use their expertise to treat a wide range of ACL injuries, including helping patients recovering from surgery. At Empire Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we’re not only committed to bringing you relief for ACL symptoms, but working with you on preventing future injuries. 

How do I know if I’ve injured my ACL?

Typically ACL injuries cause pain that can be severe, as well as sudden swelling and problems walking, let alone running or leaping. At the time of injury, you might hear a pop, and if your injury is serious, you might not be able to put weight on the affected leg. 

The ACL’s job is to connect your lower and upper leg bones, allow them to bend and extend, and bear your body’s weight.

You’re more prone to sustaining an ACL injury if you play sports that require you to stop suddenly or change your direction abruptly, like football and basketball. Lots of jumping causes them too, especially if you land awkwardly.

With time, home treatment, and rest, your ACL injury may heal. But a good rule of thumb is: Always to seek professional treatment. 

Are there things I can do to prevent an ACL injury?

Absolutely. Your treatment plan for an ACL injury may include resting your knee and a customized physical therapy treatment plan, the goals of which typically include: 

But if you want to significantly lower your risk for future injuries, try these PT-approved strategies at home. These steps will strengthen your knee, improve your balance, and enhance stability. They help to ensure that your ACL remains strong and intact.

Smart moves

If your knee isn’t weak, it can better withstand movements that might damage it otherwise. The training program we recommend is tailored to you and contains exercises that aren’t complicated or overly challenging. 

Moves as simple as squats and walking lunges, for example, are great strengtheners. Proper form is of utmost importance, though, so when doing squats, keep your feet hip-width apart, your knees behind your toes, and your chest high. Face your knees and feet forward. 

Lower your chance of injury even more by placing a chair behind you. It can stabilize you if necessary. 

Lunges are also knee-strengthening. Just take it easy, because proper form is more important than how many you do. 

And speaking of form, if you play sports or do informal exercise, concentrate on not allowing your knees to turn in when you run or jump, which ups the likelihood of an ACL injury.

Keep things balanced

Good balance also helps prevent an ACL injury. To improve your balance, stand on your tiptoes and step from side to side while holding a chair back in front of you. Raise your calf and foot off the ground (with toes pointing downward) and hold for about 10 seconds. 

Practices like tai chi and yoga are good for balance too.

Sensible shoes make sense

Your knees will thank you if you wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes that are appropriate for the activity. Shoes that don’t match the sport you’re playing, sky-high heels, or just badly made everyday shoes can strain your knees and make you vulnerable to ACL injuries. 

Technique tips

How you move — whether it’s playing a sport, dancing, or just unloading grocery bags from the car — is just as important as having the ability to perform the movement itself. 

Our team at Empire Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation offers great advice on how best to avoid awkward movements and incorrect athletic techniques that can damage your ACL.

We partner with you to do everything possible to help you avoid an ACL injury. But if you do end up with one, don’t hesitate to come in for treatment.

Contact our New York City office to set up an appointment. We’re located in Manhattan, convenient to the Upper East Side and Midtown East. For your convenience, we offer early morning appointments.

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