Do you know anyone who has suffered an ACL tear? This is one of the most common knee injuries and takes a long time to come back from. It’s the kind of injury that can keep an athlete out for a whole year and requires surgery and a lengthy rehab. When I see someone with this injury, I tell them that it will take time, but they definitely can make a full recovery and get back to playing their sport. The process takes hard work and commitment, but the outcomes are very good.
There are lots of important parts of rehab from an ACL injury, but I want to highlight certain things that make sure an athlete can safely get back on the field.
- Long term commitment– When coming back from this injury, the athlete has to understand that you can’t rush the process. The ACL takes a long time to heal and research has shown that it takes a minimum of 9 months to become strong enough to safely play sports. Even more importantly, the athlete has to develop the muscle power and strength needed to run, jump, and cut on a field.
- Strength training– When rehabbing from an ACL injury, the muscles in our legs lose a lot of strength and need to be trained to be strong again. Early on this strengthening is necessary to allow the person to regain normal walking mechanics, the ability to go up the stairs, and to get in and out of a car. As time passes and you get stronger, the training becomes even more specific to your sport so that your muscles can support the ACL as much as possible.
- Landing mechanics– One of the risk factors for ACL injury is landing mechanics. When landing we want to make sure the athlete has control of their knee and are able to maintain stability. As the athlete gets stronger and is closer to returning to play, it is important to make sure landing mechanics are practiced in all different ways. This means working on jumping/landing on two legs, on one leg, landing from different heights, and making the practice specific to their sport.
- Mentality– This is an area that doesn’t always get as much attention as it deserves. Returning to the sport that an athlete got hurt playing can be really difficult and scary. It is so important that we take the time to help each person feel confident in their ability to move. Developing the right mentality takes time, but we know that it is vital for the athlete to return to 100%.
- Consistency– When you know that it’s going to take at least 9 months to get back to playing, it is easy to get discouraged. It’s okay to have a day occasionally, when you don’t feel like doing your exercises. However, you have to stay committed to working hard each day and continue to push yourself to get stronger. When rehabbing from this injury it is important to keep working all the way until you’re back on the field. Going to PT for 5 months before trying to do the rest on your own isn’t the best strategy for making a 100% recovery. Train to get back on the field and then keep training so you can stay there.
These are just some of the different parts of working with athletes recovering from an ACL injury and as always, the most important part of rehab is working with someone you trust.
If you or someone you know is rehabbing from an ACL injury, let us know about your experience!