ACL injuries, also known as anterior cruciate ligament injuries, are one of the most common forms of knee injuries around the globe, including here in Union County, New Jersey. In some instances, the ligament is sprained, while in others, it is torn. In around half of these injuries, damage to other areas of the knee also occurs.

There are numerous ways that you may potentially injure your ACL and surgery to repair the ligament may be necessary. Whether your ACL injury requires surgery or not, chances are that you will need to undergo ACL physical therapy in Union County, NJ to regain full functionality to your knee.

Causes of ACL Injuries

While anyone can damage their ACL, you are more likely to suffer this specific knee trauma if you play sports. Participants in sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball and football appear to be the most common sufferers of an ACL sprain or tear. This is because these sports require the player to change directions quickly while also slowing, stopping or landing suddenly, all of which may cause damage to the ACL.

This ligament, in particular, is also prone to sprains and tears during collisions. When the knee is subjected to these sudden, jerky movements, the bones in the leg turn in opposite directions while supporting the weight of your body. This causes the knee joint to overextend and the ACL is sprained or torn as a result.

What Happens During a Physical Therapy Session

More often than not, a physician will determine that your injury requires ACL physical therapy. In Union County, NJ, your physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon will likely work along with your physician to determine if therapy alone will be sufficient enough to heal your injury. For many patients, surgery will be required to reconstruct the damaged knee. If this is the case for you, you will attend physical therapy both before and after the surgery.

Before your operation, your physical therapist will focus on increasing your range of motion, decreasing the amount of swelling you are experiencing, and strengthen the knee. This result is achieved through exercises, including knee bends, heel raises and heel dig bridges. Your therapist may opt to alter these recommended pre-op exercises based on the complexity of your specific injury and your level of pain. It is crucial to heed the advice of the therapist to ensure that no further damage is done before surgery takes place.

After surgery, your therapist will create an individualized plan based on the post-operative  instructions laid forth by your orthopedic surgeon. Generally, the focus after surgery is placed on bearing your own weight, with and without the use of crutches, and expanding movement of the knee.

In the event that you do not undergo reconstructive surgery, your therapist will likely begin with gentle stimulation and exercises similar to those designed for pre-operative patients. Eventually, with or without surgery, you will progress to strengthening your quadriceps and improving your balance and motion. Exercises like quad sets and shallow knee bends are common after initial progress has been made. You will continue meeting with your physical therapist regularly until you have regained enough strength to resume normal activities.

Timeline of ACL Physical Therapy and Recovery

Depending on the severity of your ACL injury, your recovery time will vary. For most people, the first four weeks will revolve around minimizing pain and discomfort. During this period, you will likely have an initial physical therapy session. These first visits will aid in determining how to proceed with your treatment. After four to six weeks, you may be scheduled for surgery (if needed) or begin to do more advanced exercises in your ACL physical therapy.

In Union County, NJ, therapists often conduct therapy sessions with ACL patients for close to six months. Each month of therapy, you will slowly regain strength and mobility. Though most ACL injuries are deemed to be healed somewhere between six and nine months after treatment began, your injury may require significantly more, or less, time in physical therapy before you are cleared for normal, unrestricted activity.

What to Expect After ACL Physical Therapy

ACL physical therapy is centered on meeting milestones rather than reaching a particular date. By the time that your therapist has determined that your treatment is complete, you will likely be able to continue with all of the activities that you enjoyed before your injury without pain. While you may be physically capable of normal activity, it is wise to err on the side of caution, as you are nearly six times more likely than others to suffer a knee injury within two years following an initial ACL injury.

Most physical therapists will recommend that you wear a supportive brace on your knee for one or two years after recovery. The brace does not need to be worn continuously, though it is wise to wear it for added protection during strenuous activities, such as exercising or playing sports. To prevent re-injury, it is also vital to stretch properly and continue with the exercises that have been learned in physical therapy.