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Exercise & physiotherapy for ACL injury

Things you can do at home

ACL swimmingThere are several things you can do in the first few days after an ACL injury to help your knee heal.

First, reduce any swelling and pain by using RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

Then make sure you protect your knee from any more damage, by avoiding any jumping or twisting.

By the fourth day after injury, you should start exercises to gradually increase how much you can move your knee, and get your thigh muscles working. Work through the following exercises in order. Once you can do an exercise comfortably and you feel ready, you can move on to the next exercise. If you're not sure, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist.

If any of these steps are painful, stop the exercises and see a physiotherapist or doctor.


A physiotherapist will oversee any conservative (non-surgical) treatment you have. You can go straight to a physiotherapist without having to see a doctor first. You can search for a physiotherapist near you on Find a Physio.

ACC almost always covers ACL injuries, but you will have to pay a surcharge. Ask your physiotherapist how much you will have to pay. If you are off work because of your injury, ACC might pay the full cost until you return to work. Check with your ACC case manager.

After assessing your knee your physiotherapist will recommend a series of exercises to help you heal. This might include some time in a gym, but exercises you do at home can also work well.

The exercises the physiotherapist gives you will help to

They will include exercises specifically targeted to your sport or work. The aim is to get you moving normally again, without worrying about your knee giving way.

It can take up to nine months to get you back to sport. Your physiotherapist will test your knee and assess your progress to find out when you are ready.

If this rehabilitation programme doesn't work, and your knee continues to give way, you may need surgery.

On the next page: Surgery for ACL

Written by a Christchurch physiotherapist. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2019.


Page reference: 219168

Review key: HIHIL-240273