8 Exercises for ACL Rehab

Recommended ACL Rehab Exercises

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If you've recently suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, the following exercises can get you on the road to recovery.

An ACL injury can cause you to lose leg strength, motion, and stability of the knee. However, you can regain those things, whether you choose to have surgery or not. Before you start treatment, doing exercises to increase strength in the muscles surrounding the knee — the quadriceps and hamstrings — as well as the knee’s range of motion.


This is because your knee will not be stable and have a limited range of motion after your ACL injury. And, it may be painful. By strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings which are located in the thigh, you can regain range of motion in the knee so that you are better prepared for surgery or rehab. 

Here are some exercises that you can speak to your physician or physical therapists about. When doing the below exercises, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of the exercises. Do not push yourself to the point that you feel pain. As long as you can tolerate these exercises, do:

1. Heel slide 

Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Slowly bend the knee of your injured leg while sliding your heel/foot across the floor toward you. Slide back into the starting position and repeat 10 times.

2. Isometric contraction of the quadriceps

Sit on the floor with your injured leg straight and your other leg bent.

Press down against the floor by contracting the quadricep of the injured knee without moving the leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times.

3. Prone knee flexion

Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Bend your knee and bring your heel toward your buttocks. Hold 5 seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times.

Exercises After Swelling Subsides

Add the following exercises once knee swelling decreases and you can stand evenly on both legs without favoring the injured knee.

4. Passive knee extension 

Place two chairs of equal height facing each other at a distance that is a little shorter than the length of your leg with your foot flexed. Sit in a chair and place your heel on the seat of another chair. Relax your leg and allow your knee to straighten. Rest in this position 1-2 minutes several times a day to stretch out the hamstrings.

5. Heel raise

While standing, place your hand on a chair or a counter for balance. Raise up onto your toes. Stay there for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times.

6. Half squat

Stand holding a sturdy table with both hands. With feet shoulder’s width apart, slowly bend your knees and squat, lowering your hips into a half squat. Hold 10 seconds and then slowly return to a standing position. Repeat 10 times.

7. Knee extension

Loop one end of Theraband or tie an exercise band around a table leg and the other around the ankle of your injured leg and face the table. Bend your knee about 45 degrees against the resistance of the tubing and return.

8. One legged standing

As tolerated, try to stand unassisted on the injured leg for 10 seconds.

Work up to this exercise over several weeks.

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