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[ clinical commentary ]


Recent Advances in the Rehabilitation

of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries

njury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is potentially isolated ACL reconstruction. We have an
functionally debilitating and often requires surgical intervention accelerated program and a regular pro-
gram for patellar tendon reconstruction
followed by an extensive course of rehabilitation. Approximately
and a separate protocol for hamstring re-
200 000 ACL injuries occur annually in the United States, leading
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construction. The accelerated approach

to nearly 100 000 ACL reconstruction surgeries, one of the most is utilized for the young and/or athletic
common orthopaedic surgeries, which has expectations of excellent patient. The main differences between
outcomes.26,73,85,105,112,150,171,175 The surgical procedure is one aspect the 2 programs are the rate of progres-
sion through the various phases of reha-
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

of a successful outcome after ACL re- Current programs emphasize full passive bilitation and the recovery time necessary
construction; however, a scientifically knee extension,101,151,155,173,179 immediate prior to running and a full return to ath-
based and well-designed rehabilitation motion,35,52,101,122,147,173,174,179 immediate par- letic activities.
program also plays a vital role. Although tial weight bearing (WB),145,173,176,179 and In 1990, Shelbourne and Nitz151 re-
we expect all our patients to return to un- functional exercises.29,94,95,173 This trend is ported improved clinical outcomes in
restricted activities and preinjury levels due in part to the documented improved patients who followed an accelerated
after surgery,5,6,162 some authors have re- outcomes with more aggressive reha- approach rather than a conservative
ported some concerning results in which bilitation.151 Howe et al77 also reported rehabilitation approach. These patients
professional football players’ careers have improved outcomes—greater motion, im- exhibited better strength and range of
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

been altered and even shortened by ap- proved muscular strength, and enhanced motion (ROM) with fewer complica-
proximately 2 years and their overall per- earlier function—with formal, supervised tions, such as arthrofibrosis, laxity, and
formance has decreased by 20%.22,26,148 rehabilitation compared to no supervised graft failures. Furthermore, the accel-
Current rehabilitation programs fol- rehabilitation. erated group had fewer patellofemo-
lowing ACL reconstruction are more ag- Presently, we utilize 3 different reha- ral complaints and an earlier return to
gressive than those utilized in the 1980s. bilitation programs for patients with an sport. The senior author (K.E.W.),172,176,179
since 1994, and others37,88,103,183 have uti-
TTSYNOPSIS: Rehabilitation following anterior the patient to his or her sport or activity as safely
lized components of the accelerated ACL
cruciate ligament surgery continues to change, as possible. Unique rehabilitation techniques and rehabilitation program with excellent
with the current emphasis being on immediate special considerations for the female athlete will results.
weight bearing and range of motion, and progres- also be discussed. The purpose of this article is In this paper, we will provide a sci-
sive muscular strengthening, proprioception, to provide the reader with a thorough scientific entific basis for the rationale behind our
dynamic stability, and neuromuscular control basis for anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation ACL rehabilitation program following
drills. The rehabilitation program should be based based on graft selection, patient population, and
a reconstruction, discuss variations in
on scientific and clinical research and focus on concomitant injuries. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther
2012;42(3):153-171. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.3741 rehabilitation based on graft type and
specific drills and exercises designed to return the
TTKEY WORDS: ACL, knee, neuromuscular
concomitant injuries, as well as discuss
patient to the desired functional goals. The goal
is to return the patient’s knee to homeostasis and training, proprioception special considerations for the female

Associate Clinical Director, Champion Sports Medicine-Physiotherapy Associates, Birmingham, AL; Director of Rehabilitative Research, American Sports Medicine Institute,

Birmingham, AL; 2Physical Therapist, Champion Sports Medicine, Birmingham, AL; Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellow, American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham,
AL. 3Orthopaedic Surgeon, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, Birmingham, AL; Fellowship Director, American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham,
AL. 4Orthopaedic Surgeon, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, Birmingham, AL; Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellow, American Sports Medicine Institute,
Birmingham, AL. 5Orthopaedic Surgeon, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, Birmingham, AL; Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Director, American Sports
Medicine Institute, Birmingham, AL. Address all correspondence to Dr Kevin Wilk, 805 St Vincent’s Dr, Suite G100, Birmingham, AL 35205. E-mail:

journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy  |  volume 42  |  number 3  |  march 2012  |  153

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[ clinical commentary ]
PRINCIPLES OF ACL WB and non-WB activities, proprio- sive overpressure of 5 to 10 lb (2.25-4.5
REHABILITATION ceptive training, and strengthening exer- kg) just proximal to the patella may be
cises are also initiated during the first 2 used for a low-load, long-duration stretch

ur accelerated rehabilitation weeks and progressed as tolerated. Neu- as needed (FIGURE 1A). The patient is in-
program following ACL reconstruc- romuscular control drills are gradually structed to lie supine while the low-load,
tion with an ipsilateral patellar ten- advanced to include dynamic stabiliza- long-duration stretch is applied for 12 to
don autograft is provided in the APPENDIX. tion and controlled perturbation training 15 minutes 4 times per day, with the total
We begin rehabilitation before surgery 2 or 3 weeks after surgery. Once satisfac- low-load, long-duration stretch time per
when possible. It is imperative to reduce tory strength and neuromuscular control day equaling at least 60 minutes.108 We
swelling, inflammation, and pain, restore have been demonstrated to the reha- utilize this technique immediately fol-
normal ROM, normalize gait, and pre- bilitation specialist, functional activities lowing surgery to maintain and improve
vent muscle atrophy prior to surgery. The such as running and cutting may begin knee extension and prevent a flexion
goal is to return the knee to its preinjury, 10 to 12 weeks and 16 to 18 weeks after contracture.
normalized state and to obtain tissue ho- surgery, respectively. A gradual return The amount of hyperextension we
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meostasis. Full motion is restored before to athletic competition for running and attempt to restore is dependent on the
surgery to reduce the risk of postopera- cutting sports, such as baseball, football, uninjured knee. During the first week fol-
tive arthrofibrosis.155 Patient education, a tennis, and soccer, occurs approximately lowing surgery, for patients who exhibit
critical aspect of preoperative rehabilita- 6 months after surgery, once the patient 10° or more of hyperextension on the
tion, informs and prepares the patient for demonstrates at least 85% of contralat- uninjured knee, we will restore approxi-
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

the surgical procedure and postoperative eral strength in the quadriceps and ham- mately 7° of hyperextension on the sur-
rehabilitation. strings.180 Return to jumping sports such gical side. We will gradually restore the
The preoperative phase, which we be- as basketball and volleyball, however, remaining hyperextension once joint in-
lieve is critical to a successful outcome, may be delayed until 6 to 9 months after flammation is reduced and muscular con-
may require several weeks; however, 21 surgery. trol is restored over the following several
days are typically adequate.110,155 We have Our postoperative programs were de- weeks. We often utilize extension devices
found that patients undergoing a preop- signed according to several key principles to create overpressure into extension, as
erative rehabilitation program progress of ACL rehabilitation to ensure satisfac- seen in FIGURE 1B. The authors feel that re-
more easily through the postoperative tory outcomes and to return the athlete storing hyperextension is imperative to a
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

rehabilitation program, especially the to sport as quickly and safely as possible. successful outcome and an asymptomatic
earlier phases, and regain their ROM We will discuss each of these principles in knee.150
with diminished symptoms. detail in the following sections.
Postoperative rehabilitation begins Restore Patellar Mobility
with passive range of motion (PROM) Full Passive Knee Extension The loss of patellar mobility following
and WB activities immediately follow- The most common complication and ACL reconstruction may have various
ing surgery. Full passive knee extension cause of poorer outcomes following ACL causes, including excessive scar tissue
is emphasized while gradually restoring reconstruction is motion loss, particularly adhesions along the medial and lat-
flexion motion. Immediately following loss of full knee extension.8,60,80,143,155 The eral retinacula, fat pad restrictions,3,7
surgery, WB as tolerated in a locked knee inability to fully extend the knee results in and harvesting the patellar tendon for
brace in full extension is allowed, and the abnormal joint arthrokinematics,17,21,89,130 the ACL graft. The loss of patellar mo-
patient is progressed to full WB without scar tissue formation in the anterior bility, referred to as infrapatella con-
crutches after 10 to 14 days. Despite con- aspect of the knee, and subsequent in- tracture syndrome, results in ROM
flicts in the literature, we recommend a creases in patellofemoral/tibiofemoral complications and difficulty activating
drop-lock knee brace during ambulation joint contact pressure.3 Therefore, two of the quadriceps.129 Patellar mobilizations
to emphasize full knee extension and our goals are to achieve some degree of are performed by the rehabilitation spe-
assist the patient during the gait cycle hyperextension during the first few days cialist in the clinic and independently
while the quadriceps is inhibited.144,150,154 after surgery and eventually to work to by patients during their home exercise
The locked brace is used while ambulat- restore symmetrical motion. program. Mobilizations are performed
ing and sleeping during the first 2 weeks Specific exercises include PROM ex- in the medial/lateral and superior/infe-
after surgery. Studies have also shown ercises performed by the rehabilitation rior directions, especially for those with
that patients achieve improved function- specialist, supine hamstring stretches a patellar tendon autograft, to restore the
al knee scores and proprioception when with a wedge under the heel, and gas- patella’s ability to tilt, especially in the
using a brace after surgery.20,138 trocnemius stretches with a towel. Pas- superior direction.

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reconstruction. Young et al185 examined
quadriceps activity in the acutely swollen
and painful knee by using local anesthe-
sia provided during medial meniscec-
tomy. Patients in the control group had
significant postoperative pain and quad-
riceps inhibition (30%-76%). In contrast,
patients with local anesthesia reported
minimal pain and only mild quadriceps
inhibition (5%-31%).
DeAndrade et al36 reported a progres-
sive decrease in quadriceps activity as
knee joint distention was progressively
increased with the injection of saline so-
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lution. Spencer et al161 found a similar de-

crease in quadriceps activation with joint
effusion. They reported the threshold for
inhibition of the vastus medialis to be ap-
proximately 20 to 30 mL of joint effusion,
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

and 50 to 60 mL for inhibition of the rec-

tus femoris and vastus lateralis. Others
have reported similar results.46,62,75,83,166
Pain after surgery can be reduced
through the use of cryotherapy, analgesic
medication, electrical stimulation,38,133
FIGURE 1. (A) A low-load, long-duration stretch to restore the patient’s full passive knee extension. A 4.5-kg weight
and PROM.107,124 We also utilize various
is used for 10 to 15 minutes, with a bolster placed under the ankle to create a stretch. (B) Commercial device therapeutic lasers to aid in the healing
(Extensionater; ERMI, Inc, Atlanta, GA) to improve extension range of motion and prevent compensatory hip response.31,58,118
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

external rotation. Treatment options for swelling include

cryotherapy,15,32,125,135,169 high-voltage stim-
ulation,74 and joint compression through
the use of a knee sleeve or compression
wrap.91 A commercial cold device (FIGURE
2) providing continuous cold therapy and
compression may also be beneficial.
The speed of progression of WB status
and ROM may also affect pain and swell-
ing in the knee. In general, our patients
are allowed to bear weight, as tolerated,
with 2 crutches and a brace locked into
extension immediately following surgery.
The brace is worn until voluntary quad-
riceps control is demonstrated. Typically,
the patient should be able to perform a
straight leg raise without a lag, have no
FIGURE 2. A commercial cold wrap (Game Ready, Concord, CA) applied to the knee immediately after surgery to increases in pain or swelling, and demon-
control pain and swelling. strate adequate quadriceps control while
present in the physical therapy clinic.
Reduce Postoperative Inflammation inflammation, and swelling during the A critical goal of the second week is
In addition to restoring full passive knee first week of rehabilitation. Pain may play to train the patient to assume full WB.
extension and patellar mobility, it is im- a role in the inhibition of muscle activ- Two crutches are used for the first 7 to 10
perative to control postoperative pain, ity commonly observed following ACL days after surgery, progressing to 1 crutch

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[ clinical commentary ]
of an increase in symptoms. knee flexion.177 Patients are instructed
It should be noted that Cosgarea et to actively contract the quadriceps mus-
al34 compared the effects of postopera- culature with the assistance of the su-
tive bracing and ROM exercises on the perimposed neuromuscular electrical
incidence of arthrofibrosis following ACL stimulation. Once independent muscle
reconstruction between 2 groups of pa- activation is achieved, biofeedback may
tients. The group that was braced at 45° be utilized to facilitate further neuromus-
of knee flexion and waited 1 week prior cular activation of the quadriceps. The
to beginning ROM exercises had a 23% authors prefer electrical muscle stimula-
incidence of motion complications, com- tion to biofeedback for the vast majority
pared to a rate of 3% in the group that of patients. The patient must concentrate
was braced at 0° of knee extension and on independently activating the quadri-
initiated ROM exercises immediately fol- ceps during rehabilitation.
lowing surgery. Similarly, several authors
Restore Neuromuscular Control
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have reported that immediate motion

is essential to avoid ROM complica- We routinely begin basic proprioceptive
tions34,113,114,149,155; accordingly, failure to training during the second postoperative
achieve full extension has been associated week, pending adequate normalization
with poor postoperative results. of pain, swelling, and quadriceps con-
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

Thus, the primary focus at this time trol.10-14 Proprioceptive training initially
is on obtaining full knee extension. Over begins with basic exercises such as joint
the course of the following month, flex- repositioning and WB weight shifting.
FIGURE 3. Squats performed on a tilt board to ion ROM may be progressed by approxi- Weight shifts may be performed in the
improve neuromuscular control, utilizing a Monitored mately 10° per week, which would allow medial/lateral direction and in diagonal
Rehab Systems MR Cube (CDM Sport, Ft Worth, TX). for full flexion 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. patterns. Minisquats are also performed
We believe that the first 2 to 4 weeks fol- soon after surgery. A neuromuscular
and finally to full WB without crutches lowing surgery constitute a very impor- training device (Monitored Rehab Sys-
after 10 to 14 days. This WB progres- tant time to restore the knee to a level of tems MR Cube; CDM Sport, Ft Worth,
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

sion is altered as needed to ensure that homeostasis during ACL rehabilitation.40 TX) (FIGURE 3) may be used with weight
increased pain and swelling do not ensue shifts and minisquats to challenge the
secondary to excessive WB forces. Also, Re-establish Voluntary Quadriceps proprioception and neuromuscular sys-
WB progression is altered if concomi- Control tem of the patient. We encourage our
tant surgeries are performed (meniscus Inhibition of the quadriceps muscle is patients to wear an elastic support wrap
repair, articular cartilage procedures, common after ACL reconstruction, espe- underneath their brace, because several
etc) or if a bone bruise is present. In such cially in the presence of pain and effusion authors19,91 have reported that wearing an
cases, WB is either delayed or slowed to during the acute phases of rehabilitation. elastic bandage after surgery has a posi-
allow adequate healing. Electrical muscle stimulation and bio- tive impact on proprioception and joint
feedback39 are often incorporated into position sense.
Range of Motion therapeutic exercises to facilitate the ac- By approximately the end of week
Flexion ROM is also gradually progressed tive contraction of the quadriceps muscu- 2, minisquats are progressed to be per-
during the first week. Generally, the pa- lature. Kim et al,87 based on their recent formed on an unstable surface, such as
tient should exhibit 0° to 90° of knee review of the literature, concluded that foam or a tilt board, if the patient exhibits
ROM 5 to 7 days after surgery and 0° using neuromuscular electrical stimula- good postural control and good form dur-
to 100° of knee ROM 7 to 10 days after tion combined with exercise was more ing a double-leg squat on a solid surface.
surgery. However, the rate of progression efficient than exercise alone to improve The patient is instructed to squat to ap-
is based on the patient’s unique response quadriceps strength after ACL surgery. proximately 25° to 30° and to hold the po-
to surgery. If a substantial effusion exists, Clinically, we use electrical stimu- sition for 2 to 3 seconds while stabilizing
ROM is advanced at a slower pace. We lation immediately following surgery the tilt board. Wilk et al177 showed that the
prefer to move the knee slower the first 5 while performing isometric and isotonic greatest amount of hamstring and quad-
to 7 days after surgery to work on reduc- exercises such as quadriceps sets, straight riceps cocontraction occurred at approxi-
ing swelling and pain rather than aggres- leg raises, hip adduction and abduction, mately 30° of knee flexion during the
sively pushing knee flexion at the expense and knee extensions from 90° to 40° of squat. Squats may be performed with the

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FIGURE 5. Lateral lunges performed using a sport
cord for resistance while landing on a foam pad and
FIGURE 6. Single-leg stance (knee flexed at 30°)
catching a ball. The patient is instructed to land and
performed on a tilt board while throwing and
maintain a knee flexion angle of 30° during the drill.
catching a 3.2-kg plyoball. Manual perturbations
are performed by tapping the tilt board with the
weight may be incorporated to provide a clinician’s foot to create a postural disturbance.
further challenge to the neuromuscular
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control system. knees and reported more satisfactory

The patient may perform forward, outcomes and a lower frequency of sub-
backward, and lateral cone or cup step- sequent giving-way episodes. Wilk et al,176
FIGURE 4. Single-leg stance on foam while over drills to facilitate gait training, en- studying female patients after ACL sur-
performing upper extremity movements using a
hance dynamic stability, and train the hip gery, observed improved results when a
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

3.2-kg medicine ball. The clinician can perform a

perturbation by striking the ball to cause a postural to help control forces at the knee joint. program emphasized perturbation train-
disturbance. The patient is instructed to raise the ing. Therefore, we incorporate perturba-
knee to the level of the hip and step over tion training while the patient performs
tilt board positioned to move in the medi- a series of cones, landing with a slightly double- or single-leg balance exercises on
al/lateral or anterior/posterior direction. flexed knee. These cone drills may also be a tilt board or an unstable surface. While
Based on previous studies showing that performed at various speeds to train the flexing the knee to approximately 30°, the
muscular contraction can decrease knee lower extremity to dynamically stabilize patient stabilizes the tilt board and begins
varus/valgus laxity104 and that quadriceps- with different amounts of momentum. throwing and catching a 3- to 5-lb (1.4- to
to-hamstring muscle strength imbalances Strengthening of the hip and knee to ec- 2.3-kg) medicine ball. The patient is in-
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

lead to an increased risk of ligamentous centrically control the lower extremity is structed to stabilize the tilt board in reac-
injury,6 we believe that improving neu- imperative to a return to function. We be- tion to the sudden outside force produced
romuscular coactivation enhances knee lieve that one can improve knee stability by the weighted ball. The rehabilitation
stability. As proprioception improves, via proximal and distal stability. specialist may also provide perturbations
drills to encourage preparatory agonist/ Lateral lunges are also performed. by striking the tilt board (FIGURE 6) with
antagonist coactivation during func- The patient is instructed to lunge to the the foot, requiring the patient to stabilize
tional activities are incorporated. These side, land on a slightly flexed knee, and the tilt board with dynamic muscular
dynamic stabilization drills begin during hold that position for 1 to 2 seconds be- contractions. Perturbations may also be
the first 3 weeks with a single-leg stance fore returning to the start position. We performed during this drill by tapping
on flat ground and unstable surfaces, cone use a functional progression for lateral the patient on the hips and trunk to pro-
stepping, and lateral lunge drills. lunges in which straight plane lateral vide a postural disturbance to the body.
Single-leg balance exercises, per- lunges are performed first, then progress We typically utilize 3 levels of the tilt
formed on a piece of foam with the knee to multiple plane/diagonal lunges, lateral board to progress the patient to a more
slightly flexed, are progressed by incor- lunges with rotation, and lateral lunges challenging level of instability.
porating random movement of either onto foam (FIGURE 5). As the patient pro- An additional goal of neuromuscular
the upper extremity or the uninvolved gresses, a ball toss can be added to any of training is the restoration of the patient’s
lower extremity to alter the position of these exercises to challenge the prepara- confidence in the injured knee. It has been
the center of mass. Eventually, both up- tory stabilization of the lower extremity our experience that, following a serious
per and lower extremity movements may with minimal conscious awareness. knee injury, patients may become afraid
be combined (FIGURE 4). These single-leg Perturbation training may also be in- of reinjury and returning to high-level
balance drills with extremity movement corporated approximately 2 to 3 weeks function.29 We believe that restoring neu-
are used to promote dynamic stabiliza- after surgery. Fitzgerald et al49 examined romuscular control and, in particular, per-
tion and recruit various muscle groups. the efficacy of perturbation training in a turbation skill, significantly improves the
Medicine balls of progressively heavier rehabilitation program for ACL-deficient patient’s confidence in the injured knee.

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[ clinical commentary ]
Both weight-bearing exercise (WBE)
Summary of Peak Anterior Cruciate  
and non–weight-bearing exercise
TABLE 1 Ligament Strain in Non–Weight-Bearing  
(NWBE) have been shown to be effec-
and Weight-Bearing Exercises 18,63
tive for rehabilitation and return to sport
after ACL surgery.151 However, compared
Rehabilitation Exercise Peak Strain at Knee Angle
to NWBE, individuals who perform pre-
Isometric leg extension seated (30 Nm torque) 4.4% at 15°
dominantly WBE tend to have less knee
Dynamic leg extension seated with 45 N (10 lb) of resistance 3.8% at 10°
pain, more stable knees, generally more
150 N (33 lb) Lachman test 3.7% at 30°
satisfaction with the end result, and a
Squatting with or without 136 N (30 lb) of resistance 3.6%-4.0% at 10°
quicker return to sport.151
Dynamic leg extension seated without external resistance 2.8% at 10°
There are differences in ACL loading
Single-leg sit-to-stand (tested at 30°, 50°, and 70°) 2.8% at 30°
between NWBE and WBE. Through a se-
Step-up/-down and stair climbing (tested at 30°, 50°, and 70°) 2.5%-2.7% at 30°
ries of studies that estimated ACL loading
Leg press with 40% body weight resistance 2.1% at 20°
during WBE and NWBE using the same
Forward lunge (tested at 30°, 50°, and 70°) 1.9% at 30°
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relative exercise intensity, Wilk et al177 and

Stationary bicycling 1.7%
Escamilla et al41-45 demonstrated higher
ACL loads during NWBE (seated knee
extensions). With NWBE, ACL tensile squatting and lunging with a more for- knee joint, and to train dissipation and
loads occurred between knee angles of 0° ward trunk tilt recruit the hamstrings, production of forces through the mus-
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

and 30° and peaked at approximately 150 which helps to unload the ACL by de- cle’s stretch-shortening properties.178,181
N, compared to a peak of 50 N when per- creasing anterior tibial translation to a Hewett et al69 examined the effects of a
forming a variety of WBEs (barbell squats, greater extent than squatting and lung- 6-week plyometric training program on
single-leg squats, wall squats, forward and ing with a more erect trunk.44,47,126 Also, the landing mechanics and strength of
side lunges, and leg presses). These data the gluteal musculature has higher acti- female athletes. They reported a 22%
are in agreement with in vivo ACL strain vation, which may aid in medial/lateral decrease in peak ground reaction forces
data reported by Beynnon and Fleming18 control at the knee. Knee flexion angles and a 50% decrease in the abduction/
and Heijne et al63 (TABLE 1), who also re- can also affect ACL loading. For NWBE adduction moments at the knee during
ported a greater peak ACL tensile strain and WBE, ACL loading primarily oc- landing. Moreover, significant increases
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

with NWBE than with WBE, occurring at curs between 0° and 50° of knee flexion; in hamstring isokinetic strength, the
knee flexion angles between 10° and 30°. performing these exercises between 50° hamstring-quadriceps ratio, and verti-
For example, performing a leg press with and 100° of knee flexion minimizes ACL cal jump height were reported. Using
40% body weight resistance, climbing loading. Finally, anterior knee translation the same plyometric program, Hewett
stairs, and lunging forward all produced beyond the toes, especially more than 8 et al66 reported a statistically significant
less ACL strain than performing seated cm, may also increase ACL loading dur- decrease in the amount of knee injuries
knee extension with no external resistance ing squatting and lunging exercises.43,45 in female athletes. It must be emphasized
(TABLE 1). Interestingly, performing seated WBEs performed on the involved that with plyometric drills it is important
knee extension with no external resis- extremity are also utilized to train the to instruct the patient on proper jumping
tance (quadriceps activation only) pro- neuromuscular control system. Specific and landing techniques as well as control
duced the same amount of ACL strain as neuromuscular control drills designed and dissipation of forces.
that measured while performing a single- to dynamically control valgus and varus Plyometric activities are typically ini-
leg sit-to-stand (TABLE 1), with the latter moments at the knee include front step- tiated 12 weeks after a patellar tendon
also recruiting important hip and thigh downs, lateral step-downs, and single- autograft reconstruction and delayed
musculature (eg, quadriceps, hamstrings, leg balance drills. Chmielewski et al30 until 16 weeks after a semitendinosus au-
and gluteals), which helps to stabilize the evaluated several WB activities in indi- tograft. The leg press machine is initially
knee and protect the ACL graft. viduals with ACL-deficient and ACL- used to control the amount of weight
Although it has been reported that reconstructed knees and noted a strong and ground reaction forces as the ath-
squatting with resistance produces a correlation between functional outcome lete learns to correctly perform jumping
similar amount of ACL strain compared scores and the ability to perform the front drills. The patient is instructed to land
to performing seated knee extension with step-down exercise. softly on the toes, with the knees slightly
resistance,18 it should be noted that varia- Plyometric jumping drills may also be flexed, to maximize force dissipation and
tions in squatting and lunging techniques performed to facilitate dynamic stabili- avoid knee hyperextension. Plyometric
can affect ACL strain.43,44,47 For example, zation and neuromuscular control of the drills are then progressed to flat ground

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knee. Plyometric activities are performed
prior to running and cutting drills, fol-
lowed by sport-specific agility drills. The
decision to return to running is based on
a complex sequence of evaluations by the
rehabilitation specialist and the athlete’s
ability to tolerate the functional progres-
sion without an increase in pain and
swelling, while demonstrating good knee
and hip control. Each decision regard-
ing progression is also determined by the
known concomitant injuries addressed
FIGURE 7. Double-leg plyometric jumping drills in the
during surgery and by adequate healing
FIGURE 8. Progressive loading treadmill (AlterG of the involved tissues.
lateral direction, in which the patient is instructed
Anti-Gravity Treadmill; AlterG, Fremont, CA) utilized
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to land on the box and flat ground with the knee in a This progression of applied and func-
to initiate a walking or running program to minimize
flexed position. These activities are initiated to allow tional stresses is used to provide a healthy
impact loading on the knee joint.
the quadriceps musculature to create and dissipate
stimulus for healing tissues without caus-
forces at a higher level prior to returning to sport.
We believe that such a bone bruise could ing damage. Our goal is to return the
also lead to articular cartilage defects knee joint to its preinjury status and to
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

and include ankle hops, jumping in place, in the long term,123 and we therefore at- the level of homeostasis described by Dye
and lateral, diagonal, and rotational tempt to control WB forces after surgery and Chew.40
jumping, bounding, and skip lunging. until the bone bruise has subsided.
Flat-ground plyometrics are progressed This simple concept is applied to the Progress to Sport-Specific Training
to incorporate single and multiple boxes progression of ROM, strengthening exer- The last principle of ACL rehabilita-
(FIGURE 7). We usually begin plyometric cises, proprioceptive training, neuromus- tion involves the restoration of function
activities with double-leg jumps, pro- cular control drills, functional drills, and through sport-specific training for ath-
gressing to single-leg jumps. We are cau- sport-specific training. For example, exer- letes returning to competition. Many of
tious with plyometric training because of cises such as weight shifts and lunges are the previously discussed drills, such as
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

its potential negative effects on articular progressed from the straight-plane ante- cone drills, lunges with sport cords, plyo-
surfaces, bone bruises, and the meniscus. rior/posterior or medial/lateral direction metric drills, and the running and agility
We do not advocate the use of plyomet- to multiplane and rotational movements. progression, can be modified for the spe-
rics for the recreational athlete. Double-leg exercises, such as leg presses, cific functional movement patterns as-
Finally, proprioceptive and neuromus- knee extensions, balance activities, and sociated with the patient’s unique sport.
cular control has been shown to dimin- plyometric jumps, are progressed to sin- Some sport-specific running and agility
ish once muscular fatigue occurs.92,93,159 gle-leg exercises. This progression will drills include side shuffling, cariocas, sud-
Therefore, we frequently recommend also gradually increase applied loads on den starts and stops, zigzags, 45° cutting,
performing neuromuscular control drills the ACL graft, which are believed to result and 90° cutting. The specific movement
toward the end of a treatment session, af- in tissue hypertrophy and better tissue patterns learned throughout the rehabili-
ter cardiovascular training, to challenge alignment. Persistent or increasing pain, tation program are integrated to provide
neuromuscular control of the knee joint inflammation, or swelling at any time challenges in a controlled setting. Clear-
when the dynamic stabilizers are fatigued. during the rehabilitation program is an ance tests, such as an isokinetic strength
indication of an overaggressive approach. test,54,106,180 the International Knee Docu-
Gradually Increase Applied Loads The athlete’s return to sport is achieved mentation Committee Subjective Knee
The next principle of ACL rehabilitation through a series of transitional drills. The Evaluation Form,71,109 and hop tests,56,136
is a gradual increase in the amount of athlete is allowed to run in the pool prior have been advocated. Our criteria for re-
stress applied to the injured knee. The to flat-ground running as a way to initiate turn to play are outlined in TABLE 2. The
majority (70%-92%) of individuals who a jogging program. We have found that athlete must also demonstrate sufficient
sustain an ACL injury also have sustained the pool and an unloading treadmill (FIG- confidence in the affected extremity to
a bone bruise to the lateral femoral con- URE 8) are excellent options prior to dry- successfully return to sport without any
dyle and lateral tibial plateau,55,84 which land activities. Furthermore, backward fears or limitations.29,170 Finally, we only
can result in an increase in postoperative and lateral running is performed prior to return the athlete to sport participation
swelling, pain, and muscle inhibition.84 forward running to decrease stress on the once the knee has returned to its normal

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42-03 Wilk.indd 159 2/22/2012 6:12:51 PM

[ clinical commentary ]
TABLE 2 Criteria for Return to Play 120,180

1. Satisfactory clinical examination

2. Symmetrical range of motion without pain
3. Isokinetic test parameters
• Quadriceps bilateral comparison (80% or greater)
• Quadriceps torque-body weight ratio (65% or greater)
• Hamstrings-quadriceps ratio (>66% for males, >75% for females)
• Acceleration rate at 0.2 s (80% of quadriceps peak torque)
4. KT 2000 test within 2.5 mm of contralateral leg
5. Functional hop test (85% or greater of contralateral side)
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state and reached the level of homeo- for the female athlete to learn to control
stasis described by Dye and Chew.40 If this valgus moment.64,69,137 In addition
the patient’s knee is still sore or exhibits to education on optimal knee alignment
swelling after running, stiffness, or local- (keeping the knee over the second toe),
ized pain, the activities are reduced to a exercises designed to control this moment
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

level that does not produce these effects. at the knee include front step-downs
(FIGURE 9), lateral step-downs with resis-
REHABILITATION OF THE tance (FIGURE 10), and squats with resis-
FEMALE ATHLETE tance around the distal femur (FIGURE 11).
Rehabilitation should train the patient to

n increasing number of females stabilize the knee through coactivation of
are participating in athletics, and the quadriceps and hamstrings using vari-
this group warrants special con- ous exercises, including tilt board balance
sideration.64,65,67,70,79,137,158 Malone et al100 exercises while performing a throw and
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

reported that female college basketball catch. Because females tend to land with
players were 8 times more likely to injure increased knee extension and decreased
their ACL than their male counterparts. hip flexion after jumping, dynamic stabi-
Lindenfeld et al98 reported that female lization drills should be performed, with FIGURE 9. Front step-down movement: during the
soccer players were 6 times more likely the knee flexed approximately 30° to pro- eccentric or lowering phase, the patient is instructed
to sustain an ACL injury than male soc- mote better alignment and activation of to maintain proper alignment of the lower extremity to
prevent the knee from moving into a valgus moment.
cer players. There are similar data for the quadriceps and hamstrings.66,69 A key
other sports, such as volleyball and gym- rehabilitation aspect for the female ath-
nastics.28,48 It is also noteworthy that in lete is to train the hip extensors, external We believe that after ACL surgery it is
female athletes, the vast majority of ACL rotators, abductors, and core stabilizers, important that female athletes undergo
injuries occur without contact.176 while emphasizing a flexed knee posture a specific rehabilitation program that
Females have some unique charac- during running, cutting, and jumping. addresses the predisposing factors that
teristics that may predispose them to We instruct the female athlete to control potentially led to the injury.
injury, including increased genu valgum the knees via the hip/pelvis68,86,132 and foot
alignment, a poor hamstring-quadriceps position.86 Furthermore, we emphasize VARIATIONS IN
strength ratio, running and landing on strength training of the hip abductors, REHABILITATION BASED
a more extended knee, quadriceps-dom- extensors, and external rotators. We take ON GRAFT TYPE
inant knee posture, and hip/core weak- special consideration to eccentrically train

ness. It has also been postulated that these muscle groups to help control exces- raft selection has some impact
hormonal changes associated with the fe- sive adduction and internal rotation of the on the rehabilitation program used
male menstrual cycle may play a role.64,79 femur during WB activities. Moreover, following ACL reconstruction. To-
Because a common mechanism of core stabilization exercises are utilized to day, the most commonly utilized sources
noncontact ACL injury is a valgus stress aid in controlling lateral trunk displace- of graft tissue are the autogenous patellar
with rotation at the knee, it is important ment during sport movements.66,68,117,186,187 bone-tendon-bone33,149 and autogenous

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42-03 Wilk.indd 160 2/22/2012 6:12:53 PM

Ultimate Load to Failure and Stiffness
of Various Graft Selections

Graft Selection Ultimate Strength to Failure (N) Stiffness (N/m)

Native anterior cruciate ligament182 2160 240
Patellar tendon134 2977 455
Quadrupled hamstring59 4140 807
Quadriceps tendon164 2353 326

stronger than the native ACL and 39% of using hamstring tendon grafts versus
stronger than the patellar tendon. The bone-tendon-bone grafts in a consecutive
FIGURE 10. Lateral step-down with resistance bands. patellar tendon graft is approximately series of 60 patients. The results indicat-
A resistance band is applied around the inner knee to 37% stronger than the native ACL. Al- ed no significant difference in outcomes
provide resistance and to control the valgus moment
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though all potential grafts listed in between the 2 types of grafts. In the pa-
at the knee by recruiting hip abductors and rotators.
TABLE 3 are stronger than the native ACL, tellar tendon graft group, compared to
graft fixation strength and graft size must the semitendinosus group, there was a
be factored into the equation when devel- trend toward better objective stability;
oping a rehabilitation program. The heal- however, there was more knee extension
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

ing of bone to bone in the osseous tunnel motion loss and more patellofemoral
(patellar tendon autograft), which occurs complaints. These results are similar to
in approximately 8 weeks in most in- the findings of Marder et al.102
stances, is faster than the healing of ten- Our rehabilitation program for al-
don to bone (hamstring autograft), which lograft reconstruction is slower than
takes approximately 12 weeks.140,165 The the regular program for autogenous
theoretical advantage of a larger, stron- grafts. When using allograft tissue, the
ger allograft that allows more aggressive limiting factor to consider is fixation of
rehabilitation remains unproven.111 the soft tissue as it is healing within the
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

The potential disadvantage of using bone tunnels. It is believed that this can
hamstring autograft or patellar tendon take longer than 4 to 6 months76,81,82 and
allograft tissue is increased graft laxity or therefore may limit the patient’s progres-
graft failure due to delayed or inappro- sion to higher-level functional activities.
priate healing.96 Conversely, the potential Several authors have described the re-
disadvantage of using a bone-patellar habilitation program following alloge-
tendon–bone autograft is the higher rate nous patellar tendon bone-tendon-bone
of arthrofibrosis and anterior knee pain.96 grafts.51,78,81,82,122 Although the initial pro-
Both issues can be minimized or avoided gression is similar, the rehabilitation pro-
FIGURE 11. Lateral stepping with resistance bands by using the appropriate supervised reha- gram for allograft tissue should be slower
around the distal femur to further recruit hip bilitation program. to progress to aggressive activities such as
Our clinical approach to developing running, jumping, and cutting.
and designing a rehabilitation program
hamstring tendons.1,99,184 Some physi- based on the type of ACL graft is to be VARIATIONS BASED ON
cians use allografts4,51,157 and others use initially less aggressive with soft tissue CONCOMITANT PROCEDURES
the quadriceps tendon.53,61 Postoperative grafts such as the quadrupled hamstring/
rehabilitation needs to be adapted based semitendinosus graft. Therefore, the re- Medial Collateral Ligament Injury

on differences in graft tissue strength, turn to running, plyometrics, and sports irshman et al72 reported a 13%
stiffness, and fixation strength. is slightly slower with a semitendinosus incidence of combined ACL and
The ultimate load to failure of vari- graft. Additionally, we do not allow isolat- medial collateral ligament (MCL)
ous tissues has been reported by several ed hamstring strengthening for approxi- injuries in acute knee ligament inju-
investigators (TABLE 3).59,134,164,182 Hamner mately 8 weeks, to allow appropriate ries. Isolated MCL injuries are often
et al59 reported that the quadrupled ham- graft site healing to occur. treated nonoperatively; however, when
string tendon graft is approximately 91% Aglietti et al2 compared the outcomes combined with ACL disruption, grade

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[ clinical commentary ]
III MCL injuries may require surgical Lateral Collateral Ligament Injury ist should also consider delaying impact
intervention due to the loss of the ACL The incidence of concomitant lateral col- activities, such as jogging and plyomet-
as a secondary restraint to valgus stress. lateral ligament (LCL) injuries is far less rics, to allow for sufficient bone healing.
Although individuals with grade I and than that of concomitant MCL injuries, Follow-up magnetic resonance imaging
grade II MCL sprains may not require with Hirshman et al72 reporting a 1% inci- is not routinely performed due to cost
surgical intervention for the MCL, they dence of combined ACL and LCL injuries constraints; but it may be beneficial to
may require special attention during the in acute knee injuries. ACL injuries with determine the extent of bone healing
rehabilitation process due to increased concomitant LCL pathology or postero- to assist in patient progression toward
pain and potential for excessive scarring lateral capsular damage usually do not higher-level WB activities. Oftentimes,
of the medial capsular tissues. exhibit the same scarring characteristics the rehabilitation specialist must rely on
The treatment approach for an ACL as combined ACL and MCL injuries and, symptoms when progressing the patient.
reconstruction and a nonoperative MCL in the case of grade III sprains, require Two of the most important consider-
is similar to that used for isolated ACL surgery to restore normal knee stability ations of rehabilitation following ACL
reconstruction, with some noteworthy and function. Thus progression for con- reconstruction on someone with an un-
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special considerations. Due to increased comitant ACL and LCL injuries is usually derlying articular cartilage injury are
pain, the extent of tissue damage, and slower than for combined ACL and MCL WB restrictions and progressive ROM.
extra-articular vascularity, combined injuries to allow adequate healing. The Unloading and immobilization have
ACL and MCL injuries often present with restoring of ROM is not altered, although been shown to be deleterious to healing
excessive scar tissue formation139; thus a WB may progress slightly slower, with full articular cartilage, resulting in proteo-
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

slightly more accelerated progression WB occurring approximately 4 weeks glycan loss and gradual weakening.16,57,167
for ROM should follow, with particular following surgery. Similar to the MCL, Therefore, controlled WB and ROM are
emphasis on achieving full passive knee where excessive valgus stress is avoided, essential to facilitate healing and pre-
extension. Restoring motion can be a exercises that produce excessive varus vent degeneration. This gradual progres-
challenge for the clinician due to the in- stress are progressed with caution and sion has been shown to stimulate matrix
crease in pain associated with this injury. should be carefully monitored for symp- production and improve the tissue’s me-
MCL tears from the proximal origin toms. Furthermore, if the patient exhibits chanical properties.23,24,168 Controlled
or within the midsubstance of the liga- a varus thrust during ambulation, then a compression and decompression forces
ment tend to heal with increased stiffness functional medial unloader brace may be observed during WB may nourish artic-
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

without residual laxity. In contrast, MCL useful to control the varus moment, and ular cartilage and provide the necessary
injuries at the distal insertion site tend to isolated isotonic hamstring strengthening signals to the repair tissue to produce a
have a lesser healing response, often lead- may be delayed for 6 to 8 weeks. matrix that will match the environmen-
ing to residual valgus laxity.152 Therefore, It should be noted that the varus and tal forces.16,57,167 A progression of partial
the location of ligament damage may also valgus stresses observed during these WB with crutches is used to gradually in-
affect the rehabilitation program. Injuries combined collateral injuries will often crease the amount of load applied to the
involving the distal aspect of the MCL result in bone bruises and articular car- WB surfaces of the joint. A progressive
may be progressed more cautiously to al- tilage lesions. Rehabilitation progres- loading program that utilizes a pool or
low for tissue healing; in some instances, sion, particularly with impact loading, unloading treadmill can also be extreme-
these individuals may be immobilized should be delayed to allow adequate bone ly beneficial in the progression following
in a brace to allow MCL healing prior to healing. ACL reconstruction in a patient with a
ACL reconstruction. In contrast, injury bone bruise.
to the midsubstance or proximal liga- Articular Cartilage Lesions PROM activities, such as continu-
ment may require a slightly accelerated Articular cartilage lesions of the knee or ous passive motion machines or manual
restoration of ROM to prevent excessive bone bruises occur in approximately 70% PROM performed by a rehabilitation
scar tissue formation, and early motion to 92% of traumatic ACL injuries,55,84,142,163 specialist, are also performed immedi-
is encouraged and beneficial to the heal- with 1 study reporting 100% incidence.115 ately after surgery with a limited ROM
ing of the MCL. The expected goal of an Generally, bone bruises occur on the lat- to nourish the healing of articular carti-
ACL reconstruction with an MCL sprain eral femoral condyle and lateral tibial lage and prevent the formation of adhe-
of any degree is full passive knee exten- plateau.50,55,142,160,163 With lesions on a WB sions.116,147 Motion exercises may assist in
sion. Oftentimes, the patient may find it surface and extending into the subchon- creating a smooth, low-friction surface
difficult to obtain full knee extension due dral bone, deleterious compressive forces by sliding against the joint’s articular
to the increase in pain associated with the early in the rehabilitation process must surface, and may be an essential compo-
concomitant MCL injury. be avoided. The rehabilitation special- nent of cartilage repair.147,156 It is the au-

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42-03 Wilk.indd 162 2/22/2012 6:12:56 PM

thors’ opinion that PROM is a safe and program is warranted; although contro- exhibited successful meniscal healing,
effective exercise to perform immediately versy exists regarding the duration of while only 67% of meniscus repairs per-
after surgery and has minimal disadvan- immobilization, WB progression, and formed in ACL-deficient knees and 67%
tageous shear or compressive forces when the timing for return to pivoting sports. 9 of meniscus repairs performed in stable
performed with patient relaxation. This Cannon and Vittori25 and others90,121,128 knees exhibited successful healing. The
ensures that muscular contraction does reported an increase in meniscal healing authors suggested that the hemarthrosis
not create deleterious compressive or when a concomitant ACL reconstruction and simulated inflammatory process as-
shearing forces. Furthermore, the use was performed. sociated with ACL reconstruction may
of continuous passive motion has been For patients undergoing concomitant enhance meniscal healing and improve
shown to enhance cartilage healing and ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair, long-term results of meniscus repair.
long-term outcomes following articular ROM and WB progressions are slightly
cartilage procedures.141,146 slower, depending on the extent of menis- CONCLUSION
The importance of communication cus repair or location of meniscal injury.

between the surgical team and the re- Although there is very limited research, he rehabilitation process be-
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habilitation team to ensure the highest we allow immediate WB on meniscus gins immediately following ACL
quality of care for each individual can- repairs with the knee brace locked in injury, with emphasis on reducing
not be overemphasized, especially when full extension. WB with the knee locked swelling and inflammation, regaining
a concomitant articular cartilage pro- in full extension produces a hoop stress quadriceps control, allowing immediate
cedure, such as a microfracture, is per- on the meniscus, which may aid heal- WB, restoring full passive knee extension,
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

formed. Knowledge of the healing and ing capacity. Repair of complex tears is and gradually restoring flexion. The goal
maturation processes following these progressed much slower than repair of of preoperative rehabilitation is to men-
procedures will ensure that the repair peripheral tears of the meniscus. More- tally and physically prepare the patient
tissue is gradually loaded and that ex- over, isotonic hamstring strengthening for surgery. Once the ACL surgery is per-
cessive forces are not introduced too is limited for 8 to 10 weeks to allow ad- formed, it is important to alter the reha-
early in the healing process. Long-term equate healing of the repaired meniscus, bilitation program based on the type of
studies are needed to better understand due to the close anatomical relationship graft used, any concomitant procedures
whether these articular cartilage lesions of the joint capsule to the meniscus and performed, and the presence of an ar-
can lead to degenerative osteoarthritis hamstrings. The patient is not allowed ticular cartilage lesion. This aids in the
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

and functional disability, although some to squat past 60° for 8 to 12 weeks and prevention of several postoperative com-
studies reported that 40% to 90% of needs to avoid squats with twisting mo- plications, such as loss of motion, patello-
ACL patients will exhibit radiographic tions for at least 16 weeks. femoral pain, graft failure, and muscular
knee osteoarthritis 7 to 12 years follow- Specific ROM guidelines differ based weakness. Current rehabilitation pro-
ing surgery.97,119,131 on the extent and location of meniscal grams focus not only on strengthening
damage, although immediate motion with exercises but also on proprioceptive and
Meniscal Pathology emphasis on full passive knee extension neuromuscular control drills to provide a
Meniscal injuries occur in approximately is universal. Patients with repair of a tear neurological stimulus so that the athlete
64% to 77% of ACL injuries.27,111 Shel- isolated at the periphery of the meniscus can regain the dynamic stability that is
bourne et al153 stated that meniscal tears should exhibit approximately 90° to 100° needed in athletic competition. We be-
in the ACL-injured knee typically occur of flexion by week 2, 105° to 115° by week lieve that it is also important to address
traumatically and are nondegenerative 3, and 120° to 135° by week 4. Patients any pre-existing factors, especially for
in nature compared to meniscal tears in with repair of complex meniscal tears fol- the female athlete, that may predispose
ACL-intact knees. If meniscal pathology low a slightly slower approach, with 90° the individual to future injury. Our goal
is present, a partial meniscectomy or me- to 100° of knee flexion by week 2, 105° to in the rehabilitation program follow-
niscus repair may be necessary to allevi- 110° by week 3, and 115° to 120° by week ing ACL surgery is to restore full, unre-
ate symptoms. An arthroscopic partial 4. Patients with complex meniscus repairs stricted function and to assist the patient
meniscectomy does not significantly al- may also need to use crutches and partial to return to 100% of the preinjury level
ter the rehabilitation protocol. However, WB for an additional 1 to 2 weeks. while achieving excellent long-term out-
additional time may be required before Barber and Click9 evaluated the effi- comes. t
initiating a running or jumping program, cacy of an accelerated ACL rehabilitation
depending on the amount of meniscal in- program for patients with concomitant
jury. If surgical repair of the meniscus is meniscus repair. At follow-up (24-72
required, alteration to the rehabilitation months after surgery), 92% of repairs

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42-03 Wilk.indd 163 2/22/2012 6:12:57 PM

[ clinical commentary ]
cruciate ligament. An objective indication of Lentz TA, George SZ. The association of pain
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2009;16:245-247. 1996;45:275-280. 167. Vanwanseele B, Lucchinetti E, Stussi E. The
knee.2008.12.014 153. Shelbourne KD, Patel DV, Adsit WS, Porter DA. effects of immobilization on the characteristics

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[ clinical commentary ]
of articular cartilage: current concepts and 1992;2:82-91. Tensile properties of the human femur-anterior
future directions. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 175. W  ilk KE, Andrews JR, Clancy WG. Quadriceps cruciate ligament-tibia complex. The effects
2002;10:408-419. muscular strength after removal of the central of specimen age and orientation. Am J Sports
joca.2002.0529 third patellar tendon for contralateral anterior Med. 1991;19:217-225.
168. Waldman SD, Spiteri CG, Grynpas MD, Pilliar cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery: 183. Wright RW, Preston E, Fleming BC, et al. A sys-
RM, Hong J, Kandel RA. Effect of biomechanical a case study. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. tematic review of anterior cruciate ligament re-
conditioning on cartilaginous tissue formation 1993;18:692-697. construction rehabilitation: part II: open versus
in vitro. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2003;85-A Suppl 176. Wilk KE, Arrigo C, Andrews JR, Clancy WG. closed kinetic chain exercises, neuromuscular
2:101-105. Rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament electrical stimulation, accelerated rehabilita-
169. Warren TA, McCarty EC, Richardson AL, reconstruction in the female athlete. J Athl tion, and miscellaneous topics. J Knee Surg.
Michener T, Spindler KP. Intra-articular knee Train. 1999;34:177-193. 2008;21:225-234.
temperature changes: ice versus cryotherapy 177. Wilk KE, Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Barrentine 184. Yasuda K, Tsujino J, Ohkoshi Y, Tanabe Y,
device. Am J Sports Med. 2004;32:441-445. SW, Andrews JR, Boyd ML. A comparison of Kaneda K. Graft site morbidity with autogenous
170. Webster KE, Feller JA, Lambros C. Development tibiofemoral joint forces and electromyographic semitendinosus and gracilis tendons. Am J
and preliminary validation of a scale to measure activity during open and closed kinetic chain Sports Med. 1995;23:706-714.
the psychological impact of returning to sport exercises. Am J Sports Med. 1996;24:518-527. 185. Young A, Stokes M, Shakespeare DT, Sherman
following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruc- 178. Wilk KE, Reinold MM. Plyometric and closed KP. The effect of intra-articular bupivicaine on
tion surgery. Phys Ther Sport. 2008;9:9-15. kinetic chain exercise. In: Bandy WD, ed. Thera- quadriceps inhibition after meniscectomy. Med
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171. Wells L, Dyke JA, Albaugh J, Ganley T. Adoles- Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and 186. Zazulak BT, Hewett TE, Reeves NP, Goldberg B,
cent anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: Wilkins; 2001. Cholewicki J. Deficits in neuromuscular control
a retrospective analysis of quadriceps strength 179. Wilk KE, Reinold MM, Hooks TR. Recent advanc- of the trunk predict knee injury risk: a prospec-
recovery and return to full activity after surgery. es in the rehabilitation of isolated and combined tive biomechanical-epidemiologic study. Am J
J Pediatr Orthop. 2009;29:486-489. http:// anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Orthop Clin Sports Med. 2007;35:1123-1130. http://dx.doi.
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172. Wilk KE. Rehabilitation of isolated and com- 180. Wilk KE, Romaniello WT, Soscia SM, Arrigo CA, 187. Zazulak BT, Hewett TE, Reeves NP, Goldberg
bined posterior cruciate ligament injuries. Clin Andrews JR. The relationship between subjec- B, Cholewicki J. The effects of core pro-
Sports Med. 1994;13:649-677. tive knee scores, isokinetic testing, and func- prioception on knee injury: a prospective
173. Wilk KE, Andrews JR. Current concepts in tional testing in the ACL-reconstructed knee. J biomechanical-epidemiological study. Am J
the treatment of anterior cruciate ligament Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1994;20:60-73. Sports Med. 2007;35:368-373. http://dx.doi.
disruption. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 181. Wilk KE, Voight ML, Keirns MA, Gambetta V, org/10.1177/0363546506297909
1992;15:279-293. Andrews JR, Dillman CJ. Stretch-shortening
174. Wilk KE, Andrews JR, Clancy WG. Anterior drills for the upper extremities: theory and

cruciate ligament reconstruction rehabilita- clinical application. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.
tion—the results of aggressive rehabilitation: a 1993;17:225-239.
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

12-week follow-up in 212 cases. Isokin Exerc Sci. 182. Woo SL, Hollis JM, Adams DJ, Lyon RM, Takai S.



Preoperative Phase • Weight-bearing exercises: minisquats, lunges, step-ups
Goals Muscle stimulation:
• Diminish inflammation, swelling, and pain • Electrical muscle stimulation to quadriceps during voluntary
• Restore normal range of motion (especially knee extension) quadriceps exercises (4-6 hours per day)
• Restore voluntary muscle activation Cryotherapy/elevation:
• Provide patient education to prepare patient for surgery • Apply ice for 20 minutes of every hour and elevate leg with knee in full
Brace: extension (knee must be above heart)
• Knee brace or sleeve to reduce swelling Patient education:
Weight bearing: • Review postoperative rehabilitation program
• As tolerated with or without crutches • Review instructional video (optional)
Exercises: • Select appropriate surgical date
• Ankle pumps
• Passive knee extension to 0° Immediate Postoperative Phase (Day 1-7)
• Passive knee flexion to tolerance Goals
• Straight leg raises (flexion, abduction, adduction) • Restore full passive knee extension
• Quadriceps setting • Diminish joint swelling and pain

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• Restore patellar mobility Postoperative Day 4-7

• Gradually improve knee flexion Brace:
• Re-establish quadriceps control • Knee brace/immobilizer, locked at 0° of extension for ambulation
• Restore independent ambulation and unlocked for sitting
Postoperative Day 1 Weight bearing:
Brace: • 2 crutches, weight bearing as tolerated
• Postoperative brace/immobilizer applied to knee, locked in full Range of motion:
extension during ambulation • Remove brace to perform ROM exercises 4 to 6 times per day;
Weight bearing: knee flexion of 90° by day 5 and approximately 100° by day 7
• 2 crutches, weight bearing as tolerated Exercises:
Exercises: • Multi-angle isometrics for knee extension at 90° and 60°
• Ankle pumps • Knee extension of 90° to 40°
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• Overpressure into full, passive knee extension • Overpressure into extension

• Active and passive knee flexion (90° by day 5) • Patellar mobilization
• Straight leg raises (flexion, abduction, adduction) • Ankle pumps
• Quadriceps isometric setting • Straight leg raises (3 directions)
• Hamstring stretches • Minisquats and weight shifts
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

• Weight-bearing exercises: minisquats, weight shifts • Standing hamstring curls

Muscle stimulation: • Quadriceps isometric setting
• Use muscle stimulation during active muscle exercises (4-6 hours per • Proprioception and balance activities
day) Muscle stimulation:
Continuous passive motion: • Electrical muscle stimulation (continue for 6 h daily)
• As needed, 0° to 45°/50° (as tolerated and as directed by physician) Continuous passive motion:
Ice and elevation: • 0° to 90°, as needed
• Apply ice for 20 minutes of every hour and elevate with knee in full Ice and elevation:
extension • Apply ice for 20 minutes of every hour and elevate leg with knee
Postoperative Day 2-3 in full extension
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

• Knee brace/immobilizer, locked at 0° of extension for ambulation
Early Rehabilitation Phase (Week 2-4)
and unlocked for sitting
Criteria to Enter Phase 2
Weight bearing:
1. Quadriceps control (ability to perform good quadriceps set
• 2 crutches, weight bearing as tolerated
and straight leg raise)
Range of motion:
2. Full passive knee extension
• Remove brace to perform ROM exercises 4 to 6 times
3. PROM of 0° to 90°
per day
4. Good patellar mobility
5. Minimal joint effusion
• Multi-angle isometrics for knee extension at 90° and 60°
6. Independent ambulation
• Knee extension 90° to 40°
• Overpressure
• Maintain full passive knee extension
• Patellar mobilization
• Gradually increase knee flexion
• Ankle pumps
• Diminish swelling and pain
• Straight leg raises (3 directions)
• Muscle training
• Minisquats and weight shifts
• Restore proprioception
• Standing hamstring curls
• Patellar mobility
• Quadriceps isometric setting
Week 2
Muscle stimulation:
• Electrical muscle stimulation to quadriceps (6 hours per day)
• Discontinue brace or immobilizer at 4 weeks
Continuous passive motion:
Weight bearing:
• 0° to 90°, as needed
• As tolerated (goal is to discontinue crutches 10 days after surgery)
Ice and elevation:
Range of motion:
• Apply ice for 20 minutes of every hour and elevate leg with knee
in full extension • Self-ROM stretching (4-5 times daily), emphasis on maintaining
full passive extension ROM

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[ clinical commentary ]

KT 2000 test: • Enhance proprioception, balance, and neuromuscular control

• 15-lb anterior/posterior test only • Improve muscular endurance
Exercises: • Restore limb confidence and function
• Muscle stimulation to quadriceps with exercise Brace:
• Isometric quadriceps sets • No immobilizer or brace; may use knee sleeve
• Straight leg raises (4 planes) Range of motion:
• Leg press • Self-ROM (4-5 times daily using the other leg to provide ROM);
• Knee extension 90° to 40° emphasis on maintaining 0° of passive extension
• Half squats (0°-40°) KT 2000 test:
• Weight shifts • Week 4: 20-lb anterior and posterior test
• Front and side lunges Week 4
• Hamstring curls Exercises:
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• Bicycle (ROM permitted) • Progress isometric strengthening program

• Proprioception training • Leg press
• Overpressure into extension • Knee extension 90° to 40°
• Passive range of motion from 0° to 90° • Hamstring curls
• Patellar mobilization • Hip abduction and adduction
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

• Well leg exercises • Hip flexion and extension

• Progressive resistance extension program: start with 1 lb and progress • Lateral step-overs
1 lb per week • Lateral lunges
Swelling control: • Lateral step-ups
• Ice, compression, elevation • Front step-downs
Week 3 • Wall squats
Brace: • Vertical squats
• Continue use pending quadriceps control • Toe calf raises
Range of motion: • Biodex Stability System (balance, squats, etc) (Biodex Medical
• Continue ROM stretching and overpressure into extension Systems, Shirley, NY)
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

Exercises: • Proprioception drills

• Continue all exercises as in week 2 • Bicycle
• PROM of 0° to 115° • Stair-stepper machine
• Bicycle for ROM stimulus and endurance • Pool program (backward running, hip and leg exercises)
• Pool walking program (if incision is closed) Week 6
• Eccentric quadriceps program (40°-100°; isotonic only) KT 2000 test:
• Lateral lunges • 20-lb and 30-lb anterior and posterior test
• Lateral step-ups Exercises:
• Front step-ups • Continue all exercises
• Lateral step-overs (cones) • Pool running (forward) and agility drills
• Stair-stepper machine • Balance on tilt boards
• Progress proprioception drills, neuromuscular control drills • Progress to balance and board throws
Week 8
KT 2000 test:
Controlled Ambulation Phase (Week 4-10)
• 20-lb and 30-lb anterior and posterior test
Criteria to Enter Phase 3
1. Active ROM of 0° to 115°
• Continue all exercises listed in week 4-6
2. Quadriceps strength greater than 60% of contralateral side (isometric
• Plyometric leg press
test at 60° of knee flexion)
• Perturbation training
3. Unchanged KT test bilateral values (+1 or less)
• Isokinetic exercises (90°-40°) (120°/s-240°/s)
4. Minimal to no joint effusion
• Walking program
5. No joint line or patellofemoral pain
• Bicycle for endurance
• Stair-stepper machine for endurance
• Restore full knee ROM (0°-125°)
Week 10
• Improve lower extremity strength
KT 2000 test:

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• 20-lb and 30-lb and manual maximum tests 3. Isokinetic test that fulfills the criteria listed below (180°/s)
Isokinetic test: 4. Quadriceps bilateral comparison (80% or greater)
• Concentric knee extension/flexion at 180°/s and 300°/s 5. Hamstring bilateral comparison (110% or greater)
Exercises: 6. Quadriceps torque-body weight ratio (55% or greater)
• Continue all exercises listed in week 6, 8, and 10 7. Hamstrings-quadriceps ratio (70% or greater)
• Plyometric training drills 8. Proprioception test: Biodex Stability System test127 (100%
• Continue stretching drills of contralateral leg)
9. Functional hop test (85% or greater of contralateral side)
Advanced Activity Phase (Week 10-16) 10. Satisfactory clinical exam
Criteria to Enter Phase 4 11. Subjective knee score (Cincinnati Knee Rating System)
1. AROM of 0° to 125° or greater of 90 points or higher
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2. Quadriceps strength greater than 79% of contralateral side; knee

flexor-extensor ratio of 70% to 75% • Gradual return to full, unrestricted sports
3. No change in KT values (comparable with contralateral side, • Achieve maximal strength and endurance
within 2 mm) • Normalize neuromuscular control
4. No pain or effusion • Progress skill training
5. Satisfactory clinical exam Tests:
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®. All rights reserved.

6. Satisfactory isokinetic test (values at 180°/s) • KT 2000, isokinetic, and functional tests before return
a. Quadriceps bilateral comparison: 75% Exercises:
b. Hamstrings equal bilateral • Continue strengthening exercises
c. Quadriceps peak torque/body weight: males 55% to 60%; • Continue neuromuscular control drills
females 45% to 50% • Continue plyometric drills
d. Hamstrings-quadriceps ratio of 66% to 75% • Progress running and agility program
7. Hop test (80% of contralateral leg) • Progress sport-specific training
8. Subjective knee score (ie, Cincinnati Knee Rating System)
of 80 points or higher
6-Month Follow-up
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy®

• Normalize lower extremity strength • Isokinetic test
• Enhance muscular power and endurance • KT 2000 test
• Improve neuromuscular control • Functional test
• Perform selected sport-specific drills
12-Month Follow-up
• Continue all exercises
• Isokinetic test
• KT 2000 test
Return to Activity Phase (Week 16-22) • Functional test
Criteria to Enter Phase 5
1. Full ROM Abbreviations: AROM, active range of motion; PROM, passive range
2. Unchanged KT 2000 test (within 2.5 mm of opposite side) of motion; PTG, patellar tendon graft; ROM, range of motion.

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