Returning to Sports After an ACL Injury

Empire Physical Therapy in Mid-town Manhattan helps athletes return to sports after ACL tears and other injuries

Sit around any locker room and the subject of knees is bound to come up, each tale more harrowing than the last. If you’ve sustained an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in one of your knees, how you handle your recovery can make all the difference, and return you to that locker room more quickly with a story of your own.

Here at Empire Physical Therapy & Athletic Rehabilitation on the East Side of Manhattan in New York City, our mission is simple: get you back to what you enjoy doing most. Whether it’s carving up some steeps and deeps on mountain slopes or a daily run around the park, through comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitation at our state-of-the-art center, we’ve got your back — or your knees, in this case.

If you’ve sustained an ACL injury and you’re champing at the bit to get back in the game, here’s what you should know about returning to sports.

Running interference

We know you’re eager to get back to your active life, but this lifestyle is likely what landed you on the disabled list with the ACL injury. Your ACL plays no small role in the stability of your knee, which becomes alarmingly clear when you injure or tear it. At the first signs of pain, you should have your knee looked at because a small problem can turn into a major one very quickly.

If you catch an ACL injury early enough, you can greatly shorten your time on the sidelines. Nursing a strain is far easier than dealing with the aftermath of a complete rupture.

Unfortunately, many athletes are so driven that they ignore the warning signs, which lands them in the unenviable position of requiring ACL reconstruction or repair surgery. If you’re one such athlete, we’re not here to judge, but we are here to help you recover as quickly, strongly, and safely as possible.

A five-phase journey

If you’ve undergone ACL surgery or you’re nursing a major injury, you can look at your recovery as a five-phase journey.

Phase I

In Phase I, which encompasses the two weeks following your surgery (or the injury), our goal is to help you gently move and extend your knee in order to encourage circulation and lubrication. You’ll likely be on crutches, so these exercises will not be weight-bearing as we allow time for the post-surgical swelling to come down and your body to set up for proper healing.

Phase II

Between the second and sixth weeks, we’ll ramp up your exercises to encourage endurance and strength, but gently. The worst thing you can do at this point is to push your knee, potentially setting you back. To avoid this, we provide a controlled environment where you can begin to use your knee again with a treadmill, elliptical, and weight machines. We also begin work on range of motion.

Phase III

During the third phase, usually between weeks seven and 12, we begin to push your knee a bit so you can gain a little more confidence in your newly reconstructed or healing ACL. We continue to work on strengthening your joint and encourage you to try it out with a little running — but only straight ahead. No pivoting or turning during this time.

Phases IV and V

These are the phases you’ve been working toward — your return to sports. From 3-6 months after your injury or surgery, we continue to strengthen your knee and make sure that all of the components are pulling their weight so that your ACL has all the support it needs.

We may put you in a brace at first and we’re going to rely on your reports about any pain or limitations you encounter. If everything feels good and your ACL is holding up, we give you the green light to get back to your game.

Charging back in

With any ACL injury, we encourage our clients to resist the urge to charge back into sports too quickly. We understand the frustration of being benched, but any time you’ve sustained an injury, which is especially true of your ACL, you’re vulnerable to even bigger problems if you don’t proceed with patience and care.

Rest assured, we’re with you every step of the way, and we’ll design a physical therapy program that meets your unique needs and goals.

To learn more about the best way to rehab an ACL injury, please give us a call or use the online scheduling tool to set up an appointment.

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