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Best Exercises for ACL Injuries

Best Exercises for ACL Injuries

Approved by Plexus’ Physiotherapists

Stop right here!

Before you scroll to another page thinking you’re never going to suffer from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury then you need to read this. An ACL injury may be one of most common sports injuries. BUT… it can easily be sustained by non-athletes too.

Poor fitness levels, obesity, fatigue, impaired balance (resulting from other conditions), improper footwear or equipment at the gym, and several other factors can increase the risk of an ACL injury. This blog offers the exercises for ACL injuries that have been approved by Plexus’ physiotherapists. These exercises are designed to strengthen your ligaments and send you well along your journey towards recovery.

Before we begin, it is important that you get these exercises approved by your physiotherapist too!

What is an ACL Tear?

One of the most common types of sports injuries, an ACL tear is an acute sports injury that is the result of sudden changes in direction or stops while performing a particular activity, such as jumping or landing on your feet. Sports like football, basketball, cricket, and skiing may be regarded as the most common perpetrators of an ACL tear. 

There are three grades of ACL injuries. They are:

Grade 1

  • Not severe
  • More likely a result of stretching
  • Knee joint still remains stable

Grade 2

  • Partial tear of ACL
  • Caused by excessive stretching

Grade 3

  • Most severe form of ACL
  • Caused by complete or almost complete tear

Symptoms of ACL tear or injury

A well-known symptom of an ACL tear is a “popping” sound or sensation in the knee. This may be accompanied by swelling, the inability to rest the corresponding foot down on the ground, and/or loss of balance. The patient may also find their movement restricted. Buckling of the knee is another common symptom of an ACL tear.

Causes of ACL tear or injury

These can include:

  • Trauma to the knee as a result of a collision or a direct blow to the knee
  • Abrupt landing after a jump
  • Pivoting while foot is planted firmly
  • Slowing down or changing directions all of a sudden
  • Stopping suddenly

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Exercises

The exercises below aim to strengthen the muscles surrounding the ACL. They also help improve stability and reduce strain on the ACL.

Note: These exercises can be performed at home. However, we recommend you have a caregiver on standby too. If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately, and consult your doctor.

The first set of exercises can be performed immediately after you’re back from ACL rehabilitation. They can be done for a period of 2 to 4 weeks, daily (one to four times), as long as you do not experience any excruciating pain.

Safe Exercises for ACL to Start With

You will need a yoga mat, a towel, and a pillow

Heel Slides

  • Sit down on the floor with your legs stretched out.
  • Gently bend your injured knee and bring it closer to you.
  • While doing the above, make sure you slide your heel across the floor toward you.
  • Gently slide your foot away from you, and bring your leg down to the resting position.
  • Repeat 10 -15 times.

Sitting Calf Stretch

Keep a towel handy for this one.

  • Sit down on the floor with your legs stretched out.
  • Place the middle of the towel on the bottom of your foot (on your injured side); hold both ends of the towel while doing this.
  • Now, gently pull the ends of the towel closer towards you, as close as you can.
  • Feel the pull on your calf.
  • Try and hold for 25-30 seconds.
  • Repeat twice.

Quad Contractions

  • Sit down on the floor. Extend your injured leg, keep your other leg bent.
  • If you feel any pain in your injured knee, place a towel roll below your knee for better support.
  • Without moving your leg, gently squeeze the muscles on the front of your thigh. These are your quadriceps.
  • Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Release.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Ankle Pumps

  • Lie down on your back with your injured leg stretched out.
  • Bend your leg which is not injured, place your foot on the floor for support.
  • Flex the toes of your injured leg up towards the ceiling.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Then point your toes away from you.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Do 10 rounds of these.
  • Relax for 1 min.
  • Repeat.

Prone Knee Flexion

  • Lie down on your belly.
  • Bend your injured knee.
  • Bring your heel towards your buttocks.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Release.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Prone Hip Extension

  • Lie down on your belly.
  • Place your head on a pillow.
  • Keep your injured knee straight.
  • Squeeze your buttocks, and lift the injured knee off the floor.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Advanced Exercises for ACL

This next set of exercises should be done only 4 to 6 weeks after ACL rehabilitation. By this time, you will be able to stand squarely on both feet without depending too much on your uninjured leg. You will be able to lift your injured leg without support. You will have just minimal swelling. You will be a lot more mobile –  walking with a brace and/or crutches.

These exercises can also be done every day, one to four times. Remember, if you feel any sharp or excruciating pain, stop immediately!

For these exercises, you will need two chairs, a table, an exercise band, and a yoga mat.

Heel Raises

  • Stand in front of a chair, place one hand on the back of the chair for support.
  • Gently lift your heels, to stand on your tiptoes.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Gently lower your heels.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Knee Extensions

    • Sit down on a chair.
    • Place your heel (of the injured leg) on another chair in front of you.
  • The distance between the two chairs should be a little shorter than the length of your leg.
  • Relax your legs.
  • Straighten your knee.
  • Rest in this position for 2 mins.
  • Repeat as many times as you can during the day.
  • This exercise helps to stretch out and strengthen your hamstring.

Partial Squats

  • Stand up straight and hold a sturdy table for support.
  • Keep your feet shoulders-width apart.
  • Bend your knees (very slowly)
  • Lower your hips to a half squat position.
  • Hold for 8-10 seconds.
  • Slowly return to standing position.
  • Repeat 8-10 times.

Knee Flexion

  • Loop one end of your exercise band around the leg of the table.
  • Loop the other end around your ankle (of injured leg).
  • Face the table.
  • Now, slowly bend your knee, moving against the resistance of the band.
  • Bend to about 45 degrees, if you can.
  • Hold for 8-10 seconds.
  • Release.
  • Return to your standing position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Partial Lunges

  • Keep your legs hips-width apart.
  • Place your hands on your hips.
  • Step forward with your injured leg.
  • Slightly bend at the knee.
  • Keep your back leg straight, with a soft bend at the knee.
  • Keep your back as straight as you can.
  • Lower your body.
  • Try to bring your thigh (of the injured leg) parallel to the floor.
  • Return to standing position.
  • Repeat 5-6 times initially, then 8-10 times once you become more comfortable.

Stand on One Leg

  • Stand on both your feet. 
  • Slowly lift the uninjured leg.
  • Try to stand unassisted on the injured leg.
  • Hold for a maximum of 10 seconds.
  • Release.
  • Repeat.

ACL Rehabilitation at Plexus

At Plexus Bangalore and Hyderabad, we offer advanced rehabilitation for ACL tears and injuries. This comprises stem cell therapy, physiotherapy, sports rehabilitation therapy, pain management, and nutritive therapies.

Stem cell therapy for ACL tears typically involves the injection of stem cells into the injured area to stimulate tissue repair. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), often derived from the patient’s own bone marrow or fat tissue, can differentiate into various cell types, aiding in the regeneration of damaged ligament tissue.

Read more about stem cell therapy for ACL tear here.

Read more about our Sports Medicine Clinic here.


Is walking good for ligament pain?

Yes. As a low-impact exercise that promotes blood flow, and aids in the healing process, walking can maintain joint mobility without excessive strain on ligaments.

How can I make my ligaments heal faster?

With adequate rest and proper rehabilitation, you can support the recovery of your ligament injuries. Be sure to prioritize rest, practice exercises prescribed by your physiotherapist, as well as maintain your nutrition and hydration.

Do ligaments fully recover?

This depends on the severity of the injury to the ligament. Complete recovery may not always be possible, requiring ongoing management. At Plexus’ Sports Medicine Clinic we leave no stone unturned in helping you lead a full life in spite of a ligament injury. 

How do you stop ligament pain?

One of the most prescribed methods to reduce ligament pain is R.I.C.E. – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This method helps reduce pain and inflammation. Be sure to consult your doctor for appropriate pain management strategies.

How painful is ligament damage?

This depends on the severity of the injury to the ligament. Ligament damage can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, sometimes impacting movement. It is crucial to seek medical evaluation for an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment.

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