Time to Heal

The final equation: Reinforce that joint with a few good exercises


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Sean McEnroe, a veteran physical therapist who works with celebrity athletes from Vail's Steadman Hawkins Clinic, recommends the following short-term goals for post-ACL surgery patients (below). He's also provided a regimen of eight ski-specific exercises to get you back on the slopes (right). Though designed for skiers, this workout will strengthen the muscles that protect your knees no matter which sport you're getting back into—and they're ideal for preventing knee trauma if you've never been injured. McEnroe suggests doing this program three days a week, but stresses that it's critical to obtain clearance from your physical therapist before attempting any of these exercises.

Weeks 1–2: Decrease swelling with ice; increase range of motion with simple stretching exercises.
Weeks 2–6: Begin nonimpact cardiovascular exercises such as spinning on a bike with no resistance; look to get clearance to ditch the crutches.
Weeks 6–12: Work on endurance strength (high repetition, light resistance) by riding a stationary bike, running in a pool, or walking on a treadmill.
Weeks 12–16: Begin agility drills like balance squats to rebuild proprioceptor nerve endings, which help control balance and are severed during surgery. Also work on exercises that mimic sports (e.g. side-to-sides).
Week 16: Begin workouts on grass and routines using free weights and on exercise machines.
Week 20: Develop explosive muscles using miniplyometrics, i.e. drills incorporating small jumps like the skier's hop.
Week 24: Begin full-on participation in your sport. BALANCE SQUATS
With one foot back and resting on a chair and the opposite foot forward, lower your torso straight down toward the floor and then rise up—your knee should never be ahead of your front foot. Do continuous, slow repetitions for 30 seconds and build to three minutes. Advanced: Add a miniplyometric by bursting on the way up, clearing three to six inches off the ground, and then landing softly. Goal: One three-minute set.

Hold your right ankle behind you with your right hand, as if stretching the quad muscle. Slowly lean forward with your arm outstretched, hold the position for ten seconds, and then return to the start and switch legs. Goal: Ten stretches with each leg.