Because our sports medicine specialists have created a new program dedicated entirely to ACL injuries and your successful recovery from them, we’ve been sharing blog posts that correspond with the stages of the program. In first post, we helped you identify goals and prepare for ACL surgery after an injury and also introduced you to the concept of prehabilitation, which is equally as important as rehabilitating after surgery. For more on that topic, check out part I of our ACL injury blog series. After helping you prepare for surgery, we then moved on to identifying your post-ACL surgery recovery goals week-by-week in part II of our series. Today, we’ll be covering the last stage of the program and the portion that’s probably most important to those who consider themselves athletes: Returning to Play.
The goals and exercises outlined below will guide you from 3 months until 8 months post surgery. It is vital to faithfully adhere to the following program to avoid re-injury to the ACL reconstruction. Having a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer to help hide you through this program is often helpful. If you’ve had ACL surgery, but are still in the early stages of rehabilitation, check out part I and part II of our ACL injury blog series before moving forward.
Months 3-4: Jogging Phase
During months 3 and 4 of your recovery after ACL surgery you will work on improving functional strength with forwards and backwards movement, increasing your cardiovascular fitness and starting a jogging progression, core strengthening and overall lower extremity flexibility. Tip: when performing exercises such as Schlopy Mini Jumps, use a mirror for feedback. Your hips should stay even and knees should not buckle in, you should flex at your knees not your hips.
Months 4-5: Agility Phase
Building agility in months 4 and 5 of your recovery is a key step in returning to play. During months 4-5, focus on your strength, cardio, flexibility, core, and agility workouts. From the exercises outlined by the program, lower extremity strength should all be done on same day and make sure you get 48 hours rest between strength exercises. Cardiovascular exercises should be done 3-5 times per week.
Months 5-6: Return to Drills Phase
Throughout months 5-6 you will continue to work on improving strength and balance and start getting back to your game. You can add the BOSU ball with your strengthening exercises and start sport specific drills and start to be a part of your team.
Months 6-7: Return to Practice Phase
During months 6-7 of your post-ACL surgery recovery, you can start practicing your sport with your team. You can get physical in practice but only progress to play when you are fully confident. You will need both the physical strength and mental confidence before you start to compete and play.
Months 7-8: Return to Competition Phase
Congratulations! Once you’ve made it this far through the ACL surgery and rehabilitation program, you are ready to return to competition! Make sure you are in the best shape possible to return both physically and mentally. Your ACL strength and flexibility will only improve as long as you continue to challenge yourself and continue your strengthening.
Remember you won’t be 100 percent, fully recovered until 12 to 18 months. Professional athletes take one year to return to high level competition. Be patient!
If you’ve injured your ACL, whether or not you’ve had surgery yet, check out our ACL rehabilitation program website. All of the phases listed above are outlined on the site with detailed instructions, exercises and tips for making your recovery after ACL surgery as effective as possible.