There are approximately 150,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears a year, most of which need to be fixed surgically. However, new research at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City found that about 25 percent of the ACL injured population does not need to undergo surgery because partially— and, rarely, fully torn— ACLs can heal with yoga and physical therapy.
Here are 9 yoga and physical therapy exercises that can be extremely helpful to the recovery process.
(Strengthens leg muscles, gluteus and knee joint)
Lie on your back. Bend both knees and walk your ankles directly beneath your knees keeping your feet straight. Extend your arms along your body, palms face down. Press evenly into the soles of your feet, lift your pelvis off the ground, walk your shoulder blades towards one another and underneath your back. Puff your chest towards your chin. Roll your thighs inward and down. Keep your knees stacked over your ankles throughout the duration of the exercise. Hold for 20 seconds. Add 10 seconds every other day until you reach one minute. Then, build to two minutes.
2. Bridge with Leg Lift
(Strengthens legs and gluteus muscles and stabilizes knee joint)
Assume bridge position as described previously. Elevate one leg directly above your hip so that your foot points towards the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds. Add 10 seconds every other day until you reach one minute. Make sure that the bent knee tracks between your second and third toes for the entire time.
3. Moving Warrior 2
(Strengthens all leg muscles, keeps the knee joint mobile, helps stabilize the knee joint)
Stand with your legs one leg's distance apart, feet parallel. Pivot your right foot out to ninety degrees. Line your right heel up with your left arch. Engage your core by lifting your navel towards your chin. Keeping your chest and hips open, elevate your arms to shoulder height. Bend your right knee so that it stacks over your ankle and keep it tracking between your third and fourth toes. Hold for 10 breaths. Then straighten your leg making sure not to lock your knee and bend it again to come back to warrior 2. Do 10 reps of this moving warrior. Switch sides. Complete 2 sets.
4. Reclined Leg Raises
(Strengthens the quadriceps)
Lie down on your back, supporting yourself on your forearms. Bend your left leg and place the sole of your foot on the floor. Keeping it straight, elevate your right leg to the same height as the knee of the left making sure to isometrically hug your quads (upper thigh muscles) into your thighbone. Lower the leg to an inch above the ground and then repeat the lift. Do 25 of these and hold the last one up for 10 seconds. Add 10 reps every other day until you reach 50 leg-lifts with a hold of 1- minute at the end of each set.
(Stretches MCL of bent knee, stabilizes the knee joint and strengthens the muscles surrounding the knee of the standing leg)
Stand with your feet together, toes all facing forward, hands on hips. Elevate your right knee to hip height. Turn out your right hip and place the entire sole of your foot onto your left calf or inner thigh (grab your ankle to hike the foot up to the thigh). With an MCL tear, you might not be able to turn your hip/leg out a lot at first. Ease into this external rotation over time. It can take months to get to a full turnout. Keep your gaze steady on a single focal point. Hold for 5 breaths. Build to 10 breaths and ultimately one minute. Repeat with the left leg.
6. Leg Slides
(Helps reduce swelling, keeps the knee joint mobile and helps improve knee flexion)
Lie down with your legs up the wall. Cross your ankles and bend your knees. Slide your heels up and down the wall working between flexion and extension. Do 20 reps. Complete 3 sets. Switch the crossing of your ankles and repeat.
7. Seated Staff Isometric Quad Engagement
(Helps quadriceps begin to fire again after the injury and assists in stabilizing the knee joint)
Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Keep your shoulders aligned over your waist and your spine tall. Gently press your legs against the ground and hug your quadriceps (thigh muscles) into your thighbone. Release your muscles to neutral. Do 20 reps. Complete 3 rounds.
8. Child's Pose
(Stretches the MCL and helps regain flexion limitations due to ACL injuries)
Very slowly test sitting back towards your heels and bringing your forehead to the floor. Hold yourself up with your hands to control how far you go. Stop when you feels any sign of slight discomfort. Over time, gradually increase your range lowering your buttocks closer to your heels. It can take many months to assume the full child's pose position.
9. Moving High Lunge
(Strengthens all leg muscles and the knee joint, stabilizes the knee)
Stand with your feet together. Place your hands on your hips. Step your left foot back as you bend your right knee over your ankle. Straighten and bend your right knee very slowly, making sure not to lock the knee when you extend the leg. Repeat 10 times. Switch sides. Do 3 sets.