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When Can I Exercise After an ACL Tear?

When Can I Exercise After an ACL Tear?

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common knee injuries for athletes and non-athletes, too. Because your knee plays a key role in supporting you during all sorts of activities, it makes sense that an ACL injury results in some downtime. The question is, how much?

James M. Lee Jr., MD, and our team at Orange Orthopaedic Associates understand the frustration that can come from being sidelined from activities you enjoy. They’re committed to providing advanced care for ACL tears, including complete rehab and recovery care to help patients get back to their activities as soon as possible. 

Anatomy of an ACL tear

The ACL is one of four primary knee ligaments that support knee stability and function. The ACL crosses the center of your knee from back to front, contributing to knee stability and preventing the lower leg bone from sliding too far forward. It also plays a key role in knee rotation.

Most ACL tears occur from abrupt twists or pivoting movements, like when you change direction quickly when running. Falls and landing poorly after a jump can also lead to ACL tears.

The symptoms you experience following a tear depend in part on the severity of the tear. Incomplete tears typically cause less severe symptoms than a complete tear, for instance. Symptoms can include:

ACL tears are often accompanied by a popping noise that happens when the tissue tears apart.

Treatment also depends on the severity of the tear. Dr. Lee offers conservative options, like rest, ice, medication, and physical therapy, along with surgery to repair or replace the ligament when needed.

Recovery: When you can exercise again

Because you use your knees for so many activities, it's natural to wonder how quickly you can get back to your regular activities, including exercise. Once again, that depends in part on the severity of your injury, your age and personal health, and whether you need surgery to repair your ACL.

In general, the first two weeks following an ACL tear is spent relieving swelling and inflammation in the knee. This is the acute phase of healing, and typically, you do exercises that focus on early healing, along with RICE — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Most people need a brace or crutches during this phase.

Next, you move into a phase of more active therapy, focusing on activities to restore knee movement and function, muscle strength, and overall flexibility. We introduce therapeutic exercises slowly to give your knee a chance to adjust and accommodate increased movement and stress.

Because of the crucial weight-bearing function of the ACL, most injuries require at least a few months for complete recovery, with complete tears taking nine months to a year before you're able to resume pre-injury activity. 

Custom care for your knee injury

The best way to get back to your active lifestyle as quickly as possible is by following your treatment guidelines. While you shouldn’t push yourself and overdo it, you should maintain your therapy and workout schedules and not skip sessions to keep your recovery on track. 

To learn more about ACL treatment and repair, book an appointment online or over the phone today with Dr. Lee and our team at Orange Orthopaedic Associates in West Orange and Bayonne, New Jersey.

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