There's not an injury out there that's pleasant, but ACL tears are unique in that they make your knee feel incredibly vulnerable. The ACL is instrumental in holding your knee in place, which means tearing it can make you feel very wobbly.
After surgery — which will very likely be required — it's time to get back into the gym to build back your muscles and confidence. Start with easy exercises and progress slowly to more advanced moves like squats and lunges.
ACL Recovery Process
Tearing your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, will keep you from doing your regular lower-body workouts for months. During that time, there are still things you can and should do to speed up the recovery process and prevent your leg muscles from getting too weak.
From the time you get out of surgery to the point where your knee is fully recovered, you'll keep progressing the difficulty of your leg exercises. For the first month or so, there aren't many exercises you can do. After that, though, start with light machine and bodyweight exercises. Once that feels mastered, move onto full bodyweight exercises like squats.
Once you're comfortable with these leg exercises, you can move on to lateral exercises, in which you move side-to-side. This tests the strength of your ACL because it resists side-to-side movement of your knee. You can also begin walking after about a month to get used to putting weight on your leg again. After that, you move on to biking and, finally, running.
Low-Intensity Recovery Workout
After about a month, you can start to get into the gym and lift some light weights. These exercises give you a smooth segue into some of the advanced movements you'll be doing in the months to come.
Higher-Intensity Recovery Workout
After six to eight weeks, you should be ready to put some weight on the knee in the form of squats or step-ups to a low box. Go slow with these and avoid anything that feels uncomfortable.
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy: Recent Advances in the Rehabilitation of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
- Mike Reinold: 6 Keys to the Early Phases of Rehabilitation Following ACL Reconstruction Surgery
- Stone Clinic: ACL reconstruction rehab protocol
- Center for Orthopaedics: Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Rehabilitation Protocol