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Leg Exercises for ACL Injury

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What are leg exercises for an ACL injury?

You will learn leg exercises during physical therapy (PT) to help you recover from an ACL injury. You will need to exercise several parts of your leg to build strength and flexibility evenly. If you work one area too much, you may injure your knee because the opposite side will be weaker. Your PT provider will tell you which exercises to do. He or she will also tell you how often to do them. You may start by doing the exercises with your provider and then continue to do them at home.

What safety precautions do I need to take?

  • Warm up before you do the exercises. Walk or ride a stationary bike for 5 or 10 minutes to warm your muscles.
  • Follow your PT provider's directions for activity. You will not be able to run or play sports right away. PT takes time. You will need to build your speed and endurance. Do not try to lift heavy weights or do weight-bearing activities before your provider says you are ready. You may cause more injury to your ACL.
  • Stop if you feel pain. Pain may be a sign that you are not ready to be doing a certain movement. You should expect some discomfort at first. Your leg may be stiff or sore. As you continue PT, it should become easier to do the exercises without discomfort. Always tell your provider if a movement causes pain.

Heel slides:

Heel Slides
  • Sit or lie on the floor and put your legs out straight in front of you. Bend your knee so your foot is flat on the floor.
  • Slowly slide your heel toward your buttocks. Keep your foot on the floor. You can also use a towel to help bring your foot back.
  • Slowly slide your foot back to the starting position.

Leg presses:

Do not use ankle weights for this exercise. The weights may cause injury to your knee. Use a resistance band.

Leg Presses
  • Put the band around the center of your foot. Hold one end of the band with each hand.
  • Tighten your thigh muscle. Then bring your knee toward your chest.
  • Straighten your leg so you are pushing against the band. Relax your leg and return your knee to your chest.

Single leg dips:

Single Leg Dip
  • Stand on your injured leg, between 2 chairs. The backs should be toward you. Put one hand on each chair. Straighten your uninjured leg in front of you and lift it off the floor. Use the chairs to hold some of your weight.
  • Bend your knee and lower your body slowly toward the floor a few inches. Your weight should be on your heel. Hold for 5 seconds. Then return to a standing position.

Standing half squats:

  • Put your back against a wall, or hold the back of a chair for balance.
  • Lower your body about 10 inches. Keep your weight back on your heels. Hold for about 5 seconds. Then return to standing.

Standing hamstring curls:

This exercise strengthens the muscles in the back of your thigh.

  • Put your hands flat on a wall, or hold a chair for balance.
  • Lift the foot of your injured leg and try to bring it to your buttocks. Hold for 5 seconds. Then lower your leg.

Standing calf raises:

Standing Calf Raises
  • Put both hands flat on a wall, or hold a chair for balance.
  • Bend the knee of your uninjured leg. Raise and lower the heel of your injured leg.

Sitting leg extensions:

Sitting Leg Raise
  • Sit in a chair and slowly raise your injured leg.
  • Squeeze your thigh muscles. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Then lower your foot to the floor.

Straight leg raises (on your stomach):

Straight Leg Lifts
  • Lie on your stomach. Keep your legs straight.
  • Tighten your leg muscles and raise your leg as high as you can. Hold for 5 seconds. Then lower your leg.

Straight leg raises (on your back):

Leg Lifts
  • Lie on your back. Keep your legs straight.
  • Slowly straighten and raise your leg. Squeeze your thigh muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Relax and return your leg to the floor.

Hip abduction:

This exercise helps strengthen your outer thigh.

Hip Abduction
  • Lie on your uninjured side. Straighten your legs.
  • Raise and lower your injured leg.

Hip adduction:

This exercise helps strengthen your inner thigh.

Hip Adduction
  • Lie on your injured side. Put the other leg over your injured leg. Put your foot on the floor in front of you.
  • Raise your injured leg until it touches the other leg. Then lower the leg.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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