Road to Recovery: Best ACL Exercises Post-Surgery

Road to Recovery: Best ACL Exercises Post-Surgery

Tearing your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) can be a devastating setback, especially for athletes. This ligament stabilizes the knee joint, and damage to it can significantly impact mobility and function. The good news is that ACL reconstruction surgery is a highly successful procedure, but proper rehabilitation is a critical component of a full recovery. Let’s delve into the best ACL exercises after surgery to get you back on your feet, which is more vital than ever.

Early Stage: Regaining Control (Weeks 0-6)

The immediate aftermath of surgery focuses on reducing pain, swelling, and inflammation. Your physical therapist will recommend gentle exercises to promote blood flow and prevent muscle wasting. Best ACL exercises after surgery at this stage include:

  • Quad Sets: Tighten your quadriceps muscle without moving your Leg. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat.
  • Ankle Pumps: Point and flex your foot to improve circulation.
  • Straight Leg Raises: Slowly lift your straightened Leg off the ground while lying on your back.

Building Strength (Weeks 6-12)

As pain subsides, the focus shifts towards strengthening the muscles that support your knee. These exercises will help regain range of motion and improve stability. Some of the best ACL exercises after surgery during this phase include:

  • Short Arc Quad Sets: Isometrically contract your quadriceps while bending your knee slightly.
  • Heel Slides: Slowly slide your heel back and forth along the floor while seated.
  • Hamstring Stretches: Gently stretch the back of your thigh to improve flexibility.

Balance and Proprioception (Weeks 12-18)

Balance and proprioception (your body’s awareness of joint position) are crucial for preventing future injuries. Exercises that challenge your stability will be incorporated into your routine. Here are some best ACL exercises after surgery to enhance balance:

  • Single Leg Stands: Hold yourself upright on one Leg for progressively longer durations.
  • Balance Exercises with Equipment: Utilize wobble boards or therapy balls to challenge your stability.
  • Stepping Exercises: Practice stepping up and down from low platforms while maintaining proper form.

Advanced Strengthening and Plyometrics (Weeks 18-26+)

The final stage emphasizes building strength and power to return to your desired activities. Exercises will become more dynamic and challenging, incorporating plyometric movements that involve jumping and landing. Some examples of best ACL exercises after surgery in this advanced phase include:

  • Squats: Gradually increase the depth and weight as your strength improves.
  • Lunges: Perform forward, backward, and side lunges to target different muscle groups.
  • Box Jumps: Start with low heights and progress to higher boxes as your confidence grows.

Additional Considerations for ACL Rehabilitation

Pain Management: Pain is a natural part of the healing process but shouldn’t be debilitating. Over-the-counter pain relievers and ice therapy can help manage discomfort. Speak to your doctor at Hipkneeortho about the right pain management strategies for you.

Scar Tissue Management: Scar tissue formation is a normal response to surgery. However, excessive scar tissue can restrict movement. Your physical therapist will incorporate scar tissue massage and mobility exercises into your routine to minimize its impact.

Mental Toughness: ACL recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be setbacks and frustrating plateaus. Staying motivated and focused on your goals is essential. Celebrate your achievements, big and small, to maintain a positive mindset.

Nutrition: Eating a balanced diet rich in protein and essential nutrients is crucial for optimal healing and muscle growth. Proper nutrition will also help maintain your energy levels throughout your rehabilitation journey.

Return to Sports: Athletes are often eager to return to the field. It is important to listen to your doctor and physical therapist’s advice before resuming high-impact activities. They will assess your progress and clear you for specific sports when it’s safe.

Safety Measures: While returning to activities, take precautions to minimize re-injury risk. This may involve wearing a knee brace for additional support or modifying your training regimen to reduce stress on the joint.

Long-Term Maintenance: Don’t neglect your knee health once you’ve fully recovered. Regular exercise can help prevent future injuries by maintaining strength, flexibility, and proper movement patterns.


ACL rehabilitation is a journey that requires dedication and patience. By following your doctor’s and physical therapist’s guidance, performing the best ACL exercises after surgery, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can fully recover and return to the activities you love. Remember, the team at hipkneeortho is here to support you every step of the way. We are committed to helping you regain strength, stability, and confidence in your knee.


  • Can I perform these exercises at home? 

While some exercises can be done at home, consulting a physical therapist is crucial to ensure proper form and technique to maximize benefits and minimize risks.

  • How long will it take to recover fully?

 Recovery timelines vary depending on the severity of the injury, surgical technique, and individual factors. Generally, a total return to activity takes 6-12 months.

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