Ligaments are connective tissues that attach bone to bone. Exercises for knee ligament damage may help maintain normal function when injury occurs. The four major ligaments in the knee provide stability and normal movement, such as twisting or turning, so it's important to maintain their integrity.
About Knee Ligaments
The ligaments of the knee connect the thighbone to the shinbone. Johns Hopkins Medicine details them as the:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): The ACL controls rotation and forward movement of the shin
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): The PCL controls backward movement of the shin bone
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The LCL stabilizes the outer knee
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL): The MCL stabilizes the inner knee
When you initially damage a ligament, you might feel sudden severe pain. Sometimes, you'll hear a snap during the injury and experience swelling in the first 24 hours. The joint may feel loose and unstable. In some cases, you'll find you can't put any weight on the joint at all.
ACL tears are the most common ligament tears to experience, explains Johns Hopkins. The ACL may tear when you twist or pivot suddenly, such as during a basketball game or while skiing. The PCL, located at the back of the knee, is also commonly injured during a direct impact, such as a car wreck.
The MCL experiences more tears than the LCL, but you might experience injury to these ligaments when you receive a blow to the knee, such as when playing hockey or football.
Exercises for Knee Ligament Damage
If you suspect you have a knee ligament injury, apply ice or compression with an elastic bandage or brace immediately. Elevate the leg. Rest and over-the-counter pain relievers are also in order.
You should seek medical attention if you damage your knee ligament. Early intervention can help you avoid complications and may delay or eliminate the need for surgical repair. Your doctor will recommend muscle-strengthening exercises, wearing a knee brace during exercise and avoiding certain movements altogether.
The best exercises for knee ligament damage are therapeutic in nature. Focus on those that don't put stress on the knee. Knee ligament injury treatment exercises depend a lot on which ligament was damaged.
For the LCL, focus on lateral walks, glute exercises and wall squats, recommends a case study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy in August 2016.
For the ACL, try heel slides, hamstring curls, shallow standing knee bends and bridges. The goal is to restore your strength, range of motion and balance, explains the University of Wisconsin Sports Medicine.
Research published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation in June 2018 notes that quadriceps strengthening is helpful for PCL tears. Note that you may not be able to go beyond 70 degrees of flexion with most exercises.
If you have an MCL tear, exercises like heel slides, hip abduction and adduction and lateral steps are helpful during recovery, explains My Health Alberta Canada.
Precautions Before Exercise
Any stretches for knee ligament injuries and any weight-bearing or impact-bearing exercises should be first reviewed by your doctor or physical therapist. Healing happens gradually, and each phase of your recovery introduces a new set of exercises.
Your doctor can determine when you're ready to add more range-of-motion, flexion and weight-bearing movements. Everyone's recovery progresses at a different rate, depending on age, nature of the injury and overall health.
Rushing healing can be problematic as you can set yourself up for complications and setbacks. Even when you start to feel better, your full strength, proprioception and range of motion may not be fully restored. As a result, you're at risk for reinjury.
While it takes patience to do exercises for knee ligament damage, know that your doctor and physical therapist want you to recover completely the first time. A little patience goes a long way when recovering from a knee ligament injury.
- International Journal of Sport Physical Therapy: "Conservative Management Of An Isolated Grade III Lateral Collateral Ligament Injury in an Adolescent Multi-Sport Athlete: A Case Report"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Knee Ligament Repair"
- Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation: "Nonoperative Treatment of PCL Injuries: Goals of Rehabilitation and the Natural History of Conservative Care"
- My Health Alberta Canada: "Medial Collateral Ligament Sprain: Rehab Exercises"
- University of Wisconsin Sports Medicine: "Rehabilitation Guide"