It depends on how badly you’ve been hurt. Here are some of the options your doctor may give you:
First aid. If your injury is minor, you may only need to put ice on your knee, elevate your leg, and stay off your feet for a while. You can reduce swelling by wrapping an ace bandage around your knee. Crutches can help to keep weight off your knee.
Medications. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce swelling and pain. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter medications or prescribe something stronger. For intense pain, your doctor may inject your knee with steroid medication.
Knee brace. Some people with a damaged ACL can get by with wearing a brace on their knee when they run or play sports. It provides extra support.
Physical therapy. Once your physical therapist completes an initial evaluation and assessment, he or she will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Be sure to work closely with your PT to develop goals, and ask any questions if you do not understand your diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment.
Components of a physical therapy treatment plan after an ACL tear include, but are not limited to:
Pain control: Your physical therapist can use various treatment techniques to help decrease your knee pain. Ice packs may be used to decrease swelling, and occasionally TENS may be used on your knee to decrease the pain that you are feeling.
Gait training: If you are walking with an assistive device like crutches, your physical therapist can teach you how to use them properly. He or she can also help your progress from walking with crutches to walking normally with no assistive device.
Swelling management: The R.I.C.E. principle is one of the best ways to decrease swelling in your knee. This involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation of your knee.
Improving quadriceps contraction: After an ACL tear, your quadriceps muscle on the top of your thigh virtually shuts off and stops working properly. One of the main goals of physical therapy after a knee injury is to regain normal quadriceps control. Your physical therapist may use a form of electrical stimulation called NMES or Russian Stimulation to help accomplish this task. Quadriceps strengthening exercises, like straight leg raises, will also be prescribed.
Strengthening exercises: In addition to performing exercises to strengthen your quadriceps, other strengthening exercises for your hamstrings and hip muscles may be necessary during your ACL rehab.
Range of motion exercises: After an ACL tear, pain and swelling in your knee may limit your knee range of motion. Knee ROM exercises like the prone hang can be done to help improve and normalize your knee mobility.
Balance exercises: After a knee injury, you may notice you are having difficulty maintaining appropriate balance on your injured leg. Balance exercises using a wobble board or a BAPS board may be necessary to regain normal proprioception, or body awareness, after your injury.
Plyometrics: If you are planning on returning to high-level sports, then your physical therapy plan of care should include plyometric training. Learning to properly jump and land can help you regain the confidence needed to return to athletics.
One of the most important components of your ACL rehab program is to learn how to prevent future problems with your knee. Be sure to work with your physical therapist to determine the variables that may have contributed to your injury, and devise an exercise strategy to prevent another ACL injury.
Surgery: Your doctor may tell you that you need this if your ACL is torn badly, if your knee gives way when you’re walking, or if you’re an athlete. A surgeon will remove the damaged ACL and replace it with tissue to help a new ligament grow in its place. With physical therapy, people who have surgery can often play sports again within 12 months.