Sports Physio Rehabilitation For An ACL Injury
Updated: Oct 16
When planning for an ACL rehab, there are a lot of things we need to consider. The graft type, the sport you want to go back into, what risk factors we need to keep an eye on to prevent another injury, and what protocols your specific surgeon might have(PS. You can return to sport with an ACL! Read more about it here)
At SportsFit, we have developed an 8 stage rehab protocol, to take you from day 1, to the finish line. You can read more about it here. For the sake of this blog though, we will break down rehab to 4 phases.
Note that these time frames are a guide only. The best ACL programs are CRITERIA based, not TIME based. This means the key is for you to pass the tests required to go to the next phase, rather than waiting for a number of weeks.
Phase 1: Acute Phase. 0- 4 weeks
The first phase is focused on reducing pain, swelling, getting your knee range of motion back, and getting you back to walking as normally as possible. Though the goals here are simple, I'd argue this is the most important phase, because without the earlier you achieve these things, the faster the rest of your rehab can go.
Phase 2: Pre Run phase. 4- 12 weeks
This is where the fun begins. In this phase we start your strength work, starting from body weight and moving into light weights. The goal here is to increase your muscle strength, and bulk, so that when the phase finishes, your affected and unaffected sides looks similar.
The second goal of this phase is the jumping, skipping, and hopping variations (plyometrics). These are our 'pre- run exercises'. Your leg needs to be ready to be able to produce force, and absorb force. To accelerate and decelerate. When you can do these without pain, you are ready to run.
Phase 3: Functional phase. 12- 24 weeks
This phase is about getting back to the basics of sport. Acceerate. Run. Decelerate. Change direction. You should be able to run without pain, at different speeds, and change direction safely. Change of direction would start with pre- planned drills (where you know which way you are going) and reactive work (where you change direction according to an external stimulus).
In the gym, you will be lifting close to the weights you were lifting before the injury. If you haven't really done gym work before, you will probably be the strongest you have ever been in your life!
Phase 4: Performance Phase. 24 - 52 weeks
In this phase, you will transition from individual rehab, to be integrated back to team training. This may include some restrictions, such as non- contact, or only small group skill drills (as opposed to a full field team session). As you get stronger, faster, and more confident in your knee, you will transition to full team training and eventually game time.
In the gym, you will move from rehab, to your normal team training. This might mean that your gym program is more centred on performance enhancement.
The key to ACL rehab is getting data, and knowing when you are ready to progress. This can be done with strength tests, balance tests, hop tests, and field testing.
Contact us to find out more
Want to learn more about ACL injuries? Check out our new ACL specific website here