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11 Essential Rehab Exercises After Surgery

6th May 2021

Like any other surgical procedures, ACL surgery is performed to replace the torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a person’s knee. As one of the four major ligaments in the knee, the ACL is a band of tissue that connects one bone to another within the knee, which functions to stabilise the joint.

That said, it’s the most commonly injured ligament among people who are highly active in sports that involve plenty of running and jumping as sudden changes in movement and direction can cause excessive stress on the knee.

Once the ACL is injured, there are several ways to treat it. Depending on the severity of the damage, the more common options are physical therapy and surgery, with the latter providing a higher chance of regaining full range of motion.

For people who are relatively less active, engage in moderate exercise and recreational activities, physical therapy may help treat their ACL injury. However, for people who are highly active and want to continue in their sports, ACL surgery rehabilitation exercise is generally recommended.

ACL Recovery Exercise | Spire Ortho

ACL Surgery and Physiotherapy for Rehabilitation

As with any life-changing decision, deciding whether or not to have surgery isn’t always easy. For ACL surgery, the benefits typically outweigh the risks. Also, your options will depend on the extent of your injury, age, and symptoms. Here’s how ACL surgery differs from physical therapy and how each treatment philosophy deers

ACL surgery typically involves replacing the damaged ligament with a new tendon, offering a better chance at regaining normal knee function. It usually allows athletes to return to sports and other physical activities that require a stable knee. ACL surgery offers a high success rate and has good long term outcome

Physiotherapy, on the other hand, is a treatment to strengthen the musles to help support the knee. It is generally recommended if the ACL is mildly strained or if the patient opts for a conservative approach. It may help strengthen the muscles around your knee but continuous rehabilitation is necessary to ensure a full recovery. A conservative approach are only appropriate for those with less physical demands and for patients who do not need any pivoting stability.

If you decide to have the surgery, you’ll still likely undergo several weeks of physiotherapy to reduce pain and swelling, restore your knee’s full range of motion, and strengthen your muscles. That’s because people who go into surgery and do not ranging their motions early may develop stiffness.

11 Exercises for ACL Surgery

As we mentioned earlier, the goal of exercising the knee before the surgery is to minimise the pain and swelling post-surgery. Not only that, but the exercises are also necessary to gain a full extension of the knee as quickly as possible post-surgery. For this reason, regular stretching is important. Here are some of the exercises that are beneficial for ACL rehab:

  • Long sitting calf stretch involves wrapping a towel around your forefoot with your injured leg as straight as possible. Pull the towel towards you so that you can feel a stretch through the back of your lower leg.


  • Popliteal stretch requires you to stand in front of a chair and stretching your injured leg on it. Keep your other leg straight, place your heel on the chair and pull your toes back towards you. Reach the outside of your foot with the same sided hand as the leg you’re stretching and pull your foot to the outside. Place your other hand on the knee of the leg you’re stretching and push downwards.


  • Standing calf stretch involves three positions – push against the wall, foot against a wall, and off the step. Try to have the knee as straight as possible when resting up.


  • Heel slides involve extending the knee without bearing any weight. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out. Slowly bend the injured knee while sliding your heel towards you and slide the foot back into the starting position.


  • Isometric quad contractions are also performed seated with your injured leg extended and your other leg bent. Slowly contract the quadriceps of your injured knee without moving the leg and hold for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat this exercise 10 times.


  • Prone knee flexion involves lying on your stomach with your legs straight. Bend your injured knee and bring your heel toward your buttocks. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then relax your knee. Repeat this exercise 10 times.


  • Boogie against band involves using an exercise band tied around a pole and the back of your knee. Take a step back so the band is stretched. Gently bend your knee and straighten it out against the band’s resistance. Hold for 3 seconds, release, then repeat.


  • Double leg squat requires you to stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place a pillow between your knees and squeeze thigh muscles. Squat down by bending from your hips and pushing your buttocks backwards. Keep your back flat and squeeze the pillow with your knees. Keep your thigh muscles tight throughout this exercise.


  • Single leg quarter squat requires you to stand with one knee bent up. You can rely on a chair or table for balance. Straighten your standing leg and tighten the muscles in your thigh. Keeping your thigh muscles tight, slowly bend your knee down while ensuring that your knee stays in line with your 3rd toe. Slowly straighten up while maintaining the contraction of your thigh muscles.


  • Clam involves lying on your side. Flex your hips towards your chest and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Keeping your back and pelvis still and ankles together, lift your knee as high as possible. Hold for 3 seconds then lower your knee.


  • Standing clam is similar to double leg squat but you’ll need to loop an exercise band just above the knees. Bend slightly at the knees and bend forward at the hips keeping your back straight. Slowly turn your knees outwards as far as you can go and then back in again.

As you perform some of these exercises, you will likely experience some discomfort. When that happens, don’t try to ignore the pain. Instead, take it easy and rest your knee. Don’t push past your limits. Otherwise, you’ll make matters worse and this can result in a longer recovery time. Not all exercises described are suitable for every individual. It is best to speak to a physiotherapist to have a personalised plan for rehabilitation.

At Spire Orthopaedic Centre, everyone should be cared for and healed holistically in comfort without having to travel to different locations to seek medical and surgical help and rehabilitation support.

With a combined facility for collaboration between physicians, physiotherapists, and surgeons, you will experience a seamless service from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation, that’s tailored just for you at our clinic.