Is Physical Therapy Necessary?
Over 100,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions are performed annually in the United States. As one of the most common procedures in the country, reconstruction helps many patients get back to daily life. During the operation, surgeons repair the band of muscles connecting the ligament to the knee. Without a functioning ACL, the leg cannot stabilize the knee joint, limiting mobility. Surgery helps patients get back to functional, but physical therapy (PT) after the procedure is crucial to restoring full range of motion.
Recovering quickly with PT
While physical therapy is not a strict requirement, research suggests consistent movement can make a difference in joint recovery. Comparative studies have found that patients who completed physical therapy regained movement within 34 weeks, as opposed to 42 weeks for patients who did not complete physical therapy. To recover movement after surgery, patients should slowly introduce low-stress activities over several months.
Consistency is vital
Directly after surgery, patients will be asked to begin lifting the legs without assistance to start developing strength. Within 2-3 weeks, most patients will be walking without crutches. Some data suggest that starting physical therapy within 1-2 weeks of surgery can maximize healing. Supplement straight leg raises with stationary cardiovascular activities like the stationary bike. Gentle cardio strengthens the leg muscles while keeping stress off the quadriceps, shortening the recovery process.
Getting mobile, staying mobile
To maximize the likelihood of a quick recovery, experts suggest setting a realistic goal. Protecting the ACL graft should be top of mind going into each session. While total range of motion may not be immediately possible, patients can expect to regain 140 degrees of movement within the first several months. Swimming or running is not recommended for at least 6 months after surgery to lower the possibility of reinjuring the joint.
Making post-op pop
The first 8 weeks after surgery is a crucial window to making a full recovery. Movement goals will focus on weight-bearing movements such as maintaining a leg extension and walking unassisted. After patients can walk easily, work moves toward strengthening the muscles and expanding the joint’s range of motion.
Making knee surgery easy
By following a robust plan focusing on expanding the range of motion and protecting the new joint, many patients can expedite the recovery process. While surgery is never a walk in the park, physical therapy can help patients return to walking in the park faster than ever.