Related Exercises to Avoid when Recovering from an ACL Injury

by Joan Barker

Making a full recovery from an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is possible. However, a grade 3 ACL sprain, which is equivalent to a torn ligament needs to undergo surgery. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons specified that it requires a tissue graft, which is usually sourced from a tendon. It’s used to reconstruct the severed ligament. Coming back from the injury may take up to six months or more, and physical therapy is prescribed to speed up recovery. Here are two types of exercises that you should avoid at certain stages of recovery from a torn ACL.

Weight-bearing Exercises:

The first few weeks will have you relying on crutches. It will be impossible and/or painful—not to mention ill-advised—to perform weight-bearing exercises. Examples are lunges and squats. You should instead focus on reintroducing range of motion. It’s still possible to maintain quad strength by contracting the muscles around the knee (AKA isometric contractions) without moving the injured joint.

Terminal Knee Extension:

The knee is a hinge type joint, which means it can flex and extend. Fitness writer and health buff Jan Millehan explains that terminal knee extension (TKE) is the action of straightening the leg fully to attain the end of range of motion. TKE is not a bad workout per se, but it can exert unnecessary stress on the knee, especially when using resistance bands, cables, or machines. Avoid doing TKE, heel raises, and leg balancing exercises (specifically the ones performed in yoga) until the swelling has subsided post-surgery. Start by doing heel slides where you aim to gently stretch the leg forward while keeping heel contact on the floor.

If you want to do cardiovascular exercises, swimming is a good form of workout. You can also experiment with indoor cycling, which Nashville Fit Magazine has labelled a high-intensity low-impact exercise in a recent article. Set the resistance of the bike to low in order to minimize stress on the knees. After doing mobility training and strength and conditioning, most patients are able to move on to light jogging after 3-4 months.

Those who perform high-impact sports such as soccer, football, and basketball are at a high risk of sustaining knee injuries particularly concerning the ACL. In the world of sports, it’s regarded as a career-changer, or even -ender, as many people have experienced. Point guard Derrick Rose, for instance, tore his ACL in 2012, causing him to miss the entire season that year. He was 22 at the time and had a promising career ahead of him. But in the years that followed, he never seemed to return to his full capacity as a basketball player.

Assessing an ACL injury is difficult, so seek medical attention immediately if you feel that there is something wrong with your knee, particularly inflammation. This was the case with another NBA superstar, Kevin Durant, in 2017. Yahoo Sports reported that the athlete’s suspected torn ACL was actually a grade 2 sprain to his medial collateral ligament (MCL). His MCL was only partially torn which required a shorter recovery period of 1-2 months. He missed 19 games last year, but came back strong and was instrumental in claiming the championship that season. Kevin Durant is one of the highest earning sports stars in the world with a salary of $54.3m. However, his career remains unmarred by injuries, though things could have been different if he experienced the same situational injury as Derrick Rose. During recovery, Durant reportedly shifted his exercise routine away from his knees, and focused instead in strengthening his quads and hamstrings, which is commonly the same approach to an ACL injury.

While you can’t predict what will happen after an ACL injury, you can remain disciplined during your downtime. Even if you aren’t making a career out of sports, avoid situations where you might completely destroy such an important ligament in your knee.