How to Recover From an ACL & MCL

A physical therapist will help you regain strength and mobility in your injured knee.
A physical therapist will help you regain strength and mobility in your injured knee. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

The anterior cruceate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) are found in the knee and join the thigh bone to the lower leg bone. According to ACL Recovery, over-extension of the knee, bending, twisting or jumping can all cause injury to either of these ligaments. In fact, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical center reports that severe damage to the MCL is associated with injury to the ACL. These ligaments can be sprained or torn individually or together. However, because rehabilitation and recovery from an ACL and/or MCL requires therapy for the whole knee, treatment is the same. MCL injury can take a maximum of eight weeks to heal. An ACL injury, with or without MCL complications, can take up to a year to fully recover.

Things You'll Need

  • Physician
  • Physical therapist
  • Knee brace
  • Crutches

Recoverying from an ACL and MCL Injury

See a physician if you experience pain in the knee after physical activity. Particularly if the pain is sharp, prevents normal range of motion or is accompanied by a loud popping noise. These are all possible symptoms of sprained or torn ACL or MCL.

Apply ice to the knee and rest for at least a week after the injury or surgery. This will allow swelling to go down and the ligaments to begin healing. During this time period the doctor may cast your knee or put it in a stiff brace to restrict movement.

Use crutches for mobility. Crutches will reduce the amount of pressure on the knee and help reduce the chances of re-injuring the ligaments during rehabilitation. Discontinue use of the crutches when instructed by your physical therapist.

See a physical therapist. Your physical therapist will assess the strength of your leg and knee and help you choose exercises that will improve your strength and range of motion with minimal pain. Physical therapy can take three to six months depending on the severity of the injury. The number of sessions per week will decrease as knee strength improves.

Perform knee rehabilitation exercises at home as directed by your physical therapist. Perform these exercises as a supplement to sessions with your physical therapist.

Return to normal but not strenuous activity. While rest is important in the early stages, movement is essential to recovery. Maintain light exercise. You and your physical therapist will decide when you can begin walking long distances, running or playing sports again. Be aware this could take up to a year.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not perform physical rehabilitation exercises without the guidance of a physical therapist. Unadvised exercise can cause additional injury.

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