The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the main ligaments in the knee, alongside the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). The ACL connects the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) to stabilise the knee during movement. It prevents forward sliding and excessive rotation of the knee joint. However, if the ACL is overloaded, it can lead to injury.
ACL injuries can be devastating for athletes and active individuals. Rehabilitation following an ACL injury is crucial for regaining strength, mobility, and function in the knee. One of the most important aspects of ACL rehabilitation is strength training.
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The Common Mechanisms Of ACL Injuries
ACL injuries are relatively common in specific sports like football, basketball, and soccer. However, ACL injuries can occur anytime the ACL is put under excessive strain. The typical movements that cause an ACL tear or rupture include pivoting, twisting, jumping, or a sudden change of direction when the foot is planted.
A tear or rupture of the ACL can lead to severe pain, instability, and loss of function. In many cases, the athlete will have to take a long break from sport to rehabilitate and recover. Some patients will require surgery to repair the damaged tissue, whilst doctors may recommend conservative (non-surgical) treatment for others.
Strength Training After An ACL Injury
Strength training is a core component of reconditioning after an ACL injury, either as a first-line conservative treatment or after surgery. Strength training helps to rebuild the muscles that support the ACL and the knee.
The exercises target the key muscles around the knee, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. By strengthening these muscles, it can help to protect the knee and reduce the risk of future injuries. Additionally, it is common for individuals to experience a loss of cardiovascular fitness following an ACL injury. Strength training can help to rebuild muscle mass and improve cardiovascular fitness, important for overall fitness and endurance.
The choice of exercise, dosage, and technique is critical for the recovery outcome. ACL rehabilitation is usually supervised by an experienced health practitioner, such as a physiotherapist.
Physiotherapy And ACL Injuries
Physiotherapists have an integral role in ACL rehabilitation. Working in conjunction with the medical team, physios use assessments to prescribe the correct exercises, dosage, and technique. Physios also offer education and advice and help plan for the return to sport or work as needed.
ACL rehabilitation is an ongoing process. Physiotherapists use a progressive strength training program that is tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. The program is implemented in stages, depending on the level of recovery, and will include resistance, mobility, balance, motor control, and eventually plyometric and sports-specific exercises. It can take many months to regain full knee strength and function.
Recovering After An ACL Injury
The road to recovery after an ACL injury is long. Strength training, guided by physiotherapists, is a critical component of ACL rehabilitation. A carefully crafted strength program can help progressively rebuild the strength, mobility, and function in the knee after an ACL injury.
Always consult a health professional before starting any type of exercise program or using new training equipment.