The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), positioned at the center of the knee, is a vital connector of bones. These bands of tissue, known as ligaments, ensure the bones remain interconnected. One of the ACL’s main functions is to prevent the shin bone from shifting ahead of the thigh bone.

Injuring the ACL results from an excessive stretch or tear in this ligament, with the tear’s severity ranging from partial to complete.

When the ACL is compromised, it jeopardizes knee stability, leading to reduced leg strength and limited knee mobility.

In cases of severe tears or ruptures, surgical intervention might be necessary. To fully reinstate mobility, a comprehensive rehabilitation journey is often required.1

This article outlines a series of exercises that can significantly contribute to ACL recovery.

Nurturing ACL Rehabilitation at Home

These home-based exercises are instrumental in ACL recuperation. They assist in regaining strength and flexibility while safeguarding the ACL against further harm.

It is pivotal to shun exercises that load or strain the knee. Instead, the emphasis should lie on bolstering the muscles encircling the knee joint.

Among these are the quadriceps (“quads”) that grace the front of the leg and the hamstrings (“hams”) that drape the back of the thigh. Reinforcing these muscle groups gradually restores the range of motion, preventing the knee from immobilization.2

These exercises are ideal for home practice, ideally in consultation with a physician or a physical therapist. They can prepare you for ACL surgery or complement your structured rehabilitation plan.


Commence Your ACL Rehabilitation with these Gentle Exercises

Consider these three effective and safe exercises for early-stage ACL injury rehabilitation. Undertake these exercises cautiously, especially when the knee is still delicate.3

Heel Glides 

This exercise focuses on extending the knee without placing any weight on it.

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor, legs extended.
  2. Gently flex the injured knee, sliding the heel towards your body.
  3. Gradually return the foot to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this sequence ten times.

Isometric Quadriceps Contractions

 This seated exercise targets the quadriceps, the muscles along the front of the thigh.

  1. Sit on the floor with the injured leg extended and the other leg bent.
  2. Constrict the quadriceps of the injured knee without moving the leg.
  3. Hold for ten seconds.
  4. Relax.
  5. Perform this sequence ten times.

Prone Knee Flexion 

Lying on your stomach, engage in this exercise to alleviate knee discomfort.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight.
  2. Flex the injured knee, drawing the heel towards your buttocks.
  3. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Relax.
  5. Repeat this process ten times.

Graduating to More Dynamic ACL Exercises

As swelling diminishes, you’ll gradually find equilibrium in standing on both legs without favoring the uninjured one. Upon achieving this, you can progress to the following exercises.

Passive Knee Extensions 

For this exercise, you’ll need two chairs of equal height positioned facing each other. The gap between them should be slightly less than your leg’s length.

  1. Sit in one chair, placing your heel on the other’s seat.
  2. Allow your leg to relax, naturally extending the knee.
  3. Remain in this position for 1 to 2 minutes several times a day. This aids in a gradual hamstring stretch.

Heel Elevations 

This standing exercise improves stability.

  1. Start by gripping the back of a chair for balance.
  2. Elevate your heels, standing on your tiptoes.
  3. Maintain this stance for 5 to 10 seconds.
  4. Gradually lower your heels.
  5. Perform this cycle ten times.

Partial Squats 

Standing with support, engage in this exercise.

  1. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Gently bend your knees and lower your hips into a partial squat.
  3. Sustain this pose for ten seconds before returning to a standing posture.
  4. Repeat this sequence ten times.

Knee Flexion 

Employ a TheraBand or an exercise band for this exercise.

  1. Attach one end of the band to a sturdy table leg and the other around your injured ankle.
  2. Facing the table, slowly bend the knee around 45 degrees, against the band’s resistance.
  3. Hold for a few seconds before resuming the standing position.
  4. Repeat this process ten times.

Single Leg Balance

 This exercise evaluates and reinforces strength and equilibrium.

  1. Begin by standing on both feet.
  2. Lift the uninjured leg and stand unaided on the injured leg for ten seconds.
  3. Initially challenging, this exercise improves with practice, nurturing your strength and stability.

Summing Up Your ACL Journey

An ACL injury results from excessive stretching or tearing of the knee’s ACL ligament. Recovery from such an injury might necessitate surgery or an extensive rehabilitation process.

Home exercises serve as a supportive measure while awaiting surgery or embarking on rehabilitation. Initiating with gentle exercises, and avoiding knee compression and strain, forms the cornerstone of this process.

As swelling subsides, progressing to standing exercises on both legs fosters dynamic rehabilitation.