A year has passed since you underwent ACL reconstruction surgery on your knee and you are ready to return to sports. Whether you are an avid skier or ultrarunner or play on your high school soccer team, you will want to take good care in maintaining the quality of both your knee and the surrounding muscles and tissues – all to help in preventing not only further injury, but chronic knee pain as well. To maintain optimal performance in your individual sports, make strengthening and stretching of specific muscle groups part of your new lifestyle. Programming can be as creative as you want, but always focus on improving flexibility, balance, agility and, most importantly, strength.
Strength Conditioning After ACL Reconstruction Surgery
Strength is the most important tool for maintaining a healthy knee and performing at peak level in your individual sports. Strength deficits have been shown to exist up to three years post-ACL reconstruction. This is an important fact to take home, as most athletes return to sports at nine to twelve months post-surgery. Hamstrings, quadriceps, gastrocnemius, core, hip and gluteal muscle groups top the list when it comes to your knees. Strengthening these muscle groups will give your knee the stability it needs and help with restoring the movement patterns and neuromuscular control needed for sport-specific skills. Special attention should be taken to ensure proper squat mechanics. This movement, when performed correctly, helps develop the eccentric control over the external rotation of your hips, which, in turn, promotes proper alignment and control for sport-specific movements such as jumping, landing and cutting. You also want to prioritize gluteal strengthening as many athletes concentrate only on quad strengthening and hip musculature is very important to protect the knee from injury.
Flexibility Training After ACL Reconstruction Surgery
Flexibility helps joints move correctly and also helps prevent further injury from poor body mechanics. Poor mechanics in one part of your body causes, in turn, problems in another area of your body. After ACL reconstruction, your body goes through a change in mechanics from walking on crutches to being in a knee brace and limping. One year after surgery, you will have full range of motion; you will also have addressed poor mechanics adapted from surgery during formal physical therapy. Maintaining good flexibility is crucial for your body to perform and to decrease compensatory movement patterns that increase stress on the surrounding soft tissue. Focus on hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal musculature as well as lengthening or rolling out your iliotibial bands.
Balance and Agility After ACL Reconstruction Surgery
Balance and agility are the final ingredients to maintaining your knee after returning to your favorite sports. Exercises specific to balance and agility increase your reaction time and improve the way you land, which, if done incorrectly, can put you in a compromising position for reinjuring your ACL. Reliable neuromuscular control in a fatigued state is crucial for performing in your individual sports and for preventing re-injury. This is accomplished through a long-term conditioning program that includes movement pattern repetitions and neuromuscular control training.
Keep Your Knee Health After ACL Reconstruction
Strengthening your affected limb and the surrounding muscles is important if you want to continue to participate in the sports and activities you love. Be sure to continue a conditioning program that focuses on strength, flexibility, balance, neuromuscular control and agility long after ACL surgery.