What I have learned about the ACL: utilizing a progressive rehabilitation scheme to achieve total knee symmetry after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction

J Orthop Sci. 2006 May;11(3):318-25. doi: 10.1007/s00776-006-1007-z.


Anterior cruciate ligament surgery and rehabilitation have changed drastically during the past 30 years. The patellar tendon autograft fixed with buttons provides tight bone-to-bone placement of the graft and quick bony healing, which allows accelerated rehabilitation to obtain full range of motion and strength. Although surgical stability is easily reproducible, long-term patient satisfaction is difficult to guarantee. Full knee range of motion should be compared to that of the contralateral normal knee, including full hyperextension. We followed the progress of all patients to gauge the utility of our rehabilitation program. In order of importance, the lack of normal knee range of motion (within 2 degrees extension and 5 degrees of flexion compared with that of the normal knee), partial or total medial meniscectomy, partial or total lateral meniscectomy, and articular cartilage damage were related to lower subjective scores. Rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction must first strive to achieve full symmetrical knee range of motion before aggressive strengthening can begin. Our current perioperative rehabilitation starts at the time of injury and preoperatively includes aggressive swelling reduction, hyperextension exercises, gait training, and mental preparation. Goals after surgery are to control swelling while regaining full knee range of motion. After quadriceps strengthening goals are reached, patients can shift to sport-specific exercises. When using a graft from the contralateral knee, the conflicting goals of strengthening the donor site and achieving full knee range of motion are divided between the knees. Thus, normal range of motion and strength can be achieved more easily and more quickly than when using an ipsilateral graft. Regardless of the graft source, a systematic rehabilitation program that emphasizes the return to symmetrical knee motion, including hyperextension, is necessary to achieve the optimum result.

MeSH terms

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / pathology
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery*
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Athletic Injuries / surgery
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Knee Injuries / surgery
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures*
  • Postoperative Period
  • Range of Motion, Articular