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6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation is now available.

 

6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation

6 keys to acl rehabilitationThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation.  In this presentation, I’ll go over the 6 key foundational principles that you need to understand to maximize your results with ACL rehab.  There are many surgical and patient variables that may speed up or slow down the standard rehab progression, however, you can build an optimal program by following these 6 principles.

This webinar will cover:

  • The #1 complication after ACL rehab, prolonged weakness, and how to minimize this
  • The two most important things to focus on during the first week of rehabilitation
  • How to develop advanced strength programs and alter periodization schemes in the rehab setting
  • My simple, yet effective, criteria to return to activities

 

To access this webinar:

 

The Use of Non Motorized Treadmills to Facilitate Gait and The Posterior Chain

We’ve recently started playing more with non motorized treadmills at Champion and have been very happy with the results.

Non motorized treadmills have gained popularity in the fitness realm as alternatives to self-powered conditioning machines like bikes and rowers. The Assault Air bikes and Concept 2 rowers have long been popular for their ability to produce amazing workouts.

I am a big fan of conditioning machines that increase their intensity based on the amount of effort exerted. Essentially, the harder you go, the harder they push back!

These have done wonders for high intensity interval training and sprint conditioning work.

Woodway has recently developed the Woodway Curve self-powered manual treadmill. Past non motorized treadmills seemed really cheap to me, but Woodway, who makes some of the best treadmills, has really made an exceptional machine with the Curve. I started using them for sprint work with the Red Sox, but have recently been using it more and more with my rehabilitation clients at Champion.

Because it is nonmotorized, your posterior chain is nicely engaged while walking and running on the Curve. A simple period of ambulation on the Curve does a great job engaging the hamstrings and glutes. I’ve been using these in everyone with diagnoses like patellofemoral pain, low back pain, and even postoperative. We start with a slow walk and slowly build up the speed and eventually get to running.

In the video below I explain more. I’m a big fan of nonmotorized treadmills to facilitate a proper gait form and engage the posterior chain.


The Best and Easiest Way to Restore Knee Extension

One of the most common complications following a knee injury or surgery is not restoring full knee extension.  Losing knee extension causes a lot of issues, ranging from anterior knee pain, to altered movement patterns, to even difficulty when walking.

It’s super important to assure you restore full knee extension.

In this video below, Lenny Macrina, my co-owner of Champion and co-author of OnlineKneeSeminar.com, shares what he considers the best way to restore full knee extension.  Luckily, it’s not only the best in our minds but also the easiest to perform!  More importantly, he discusses why he doesn’t like one of the most common exercises that people tend to use.

 

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Knee

Want to learn even more about how I evaluate and treat the knee?  My online program on the Recent Advances in the Evidence-Based Evaluation and Treatment of the Knee is now available.  I’ll show you everything you need to master the knee.  Click the button below for more information and to sign up now!

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The One Thing You Must Do When Evaluating for an ACL Injury

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common. When evaluating the ACL, special tests like a Lachman Test or Anterior Drawer have been shown to have great reliability and validity.

However, there is one main reason why you may get a false positive for an ACL injury of the knee that is often overlooked – you actually injured your posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)!

I know, it seems backwards, but watch this quick video for my explanation!

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Knee

Want to learn even more about how I evaluate and treat the knee? My online program on the Recent Advances in the Evidence-Based Evaluation and Treatment of the Knee is now available. I’ll show you everything you need to master the knee.  Click the button below for more information and to sign up now!

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Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Knee

After many years in the making, I am super excited to announce that my online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the knee is now available!

Many of my readers have taken my online shoulder program and LOVED it. The testimonials speak wonders. I am humbled yet proud of how well received that program has been over the years. When I first started the program, I had no idea what to expect, but I think many people agreed with me at the time that online education was the future.

Not a month has gone by since I started ShoulderSeminar.com that people haven’t asked me “when is the knee version coming out?”

Well, today is the day!

 

Recent Advances in the Evidence-Based Evaluation and Treatment of the Knee

reinold macrina online knee seminar

I have teamed up with my co-owner and Director of PT at Champion, Lenny Macrina, to build an online program that teaches you exactly how we evaluate and treat the knee. Together, we’ve put together what we think is an amazing resource for rehabilitation specialists.

The program includes 7 modules of detailed information on anatomy, basic science, healing responses, evaluation, treatment progressions, nonoperative rehabilitation, surgical techniques, and postoperative rehabilitation.

You’ll learn exactly how we approach:

  • Clinical Evaluation of the Knee
  • Treatment Progressions for the Knee
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament
  • Patellofemoral
  • Meniscus
  • Articular Cartilage
  • Osteoarthritis

evaluation and treatment of the knee

Best of all, you can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. No more nodding off in the back of a room and losing an entire weekend. I am a firm believer that you will learn more and be able to apply the information much better when learning in small chunks at your own pace. Finish the program in a few days or several weeks, it’s up to you!

Each module contains a video introducing the material, a detailed presentation on the topic, several journal articles that we hand selected to learn the material, and discussion questions. This is an in depth course that will take your understanding of the knee to the next level.

CEU applications have been submitted to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy for approval with several states. The course is approved for 22.5 hours of CEU credit through the NATA for Athletic Trainers. We provide all the information needed if you need to apply to another board for approval.

 

reinold macrina eval treat knee

 

Start Mastering the Knee Today!

The course is value at $349.99.  That’s less than a typical CEU course and I promise you’ll get way more out of this one!

Visit OnlineKneeSeminar.com or click below to learn more and start the program today!

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Expert Advice on Youth ACL Injuries

youth acl injuriesFor this week’s post, I wanted to share what I thought was a great video from the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) on youth ACL injuries.

In this video, noted orthopedic surgeons Chris Harner, Lyle Micheli, James Andrews, and Peter Indelicato share their advice on several topics regarding youth ACL injuries, return to play, female ACL injuries, and preventative programs.

Videos like this are important to education the parents and coaches on the realities of issues like youth ACL injuries.

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Do ACL Hamstring Grafts Fail More than Patellar Tendon Grafts?

This month’s issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine included two studies comparing the revision rates of ACL reconstruction between hamstring grafts and patellar tendon grafts of over 25,000 people.  The overall number of people studied between the two groups was really compelling to me as a sample size this big is certainly worth discussing.

In recent years the graft choice for ACL reconstruction has been slowly shifting towards favoring hamstring grafts rather than patellar tendon grafts.  Recent reports have noted 84% of ACL reconstructions in Denmark and Sweden use hamstring grafts, 60% in Norway, and now are even becoming more popular in the US with 44% of ACL reconstructions using a hamstring graft compared to 42% using a patellar tendon graft.

Many research papers have been published showing that both grafts result in very good stability of the knee with excellent subjective outcome scores.  The major complaint of patellar tendon grafts is the increased risk of issues after surgery, such as patellofemoral pain and loss of motion.  Despite the reports of good stability and subjective outcomes, revision surgery is probably a more important factor to consider.

 

Do ACL Hamstring Grafts Fail More than Patellar Tendon Grafts?

The first study reviewed the nationwide Danish Knee Ligament Reconstruction Registry, which included 13,647 people undergoing ACL reconstruction between 2005 and 2011.

The revision rates for hamstring tendon grafts were 0.65% at 1 year after surgery, and 4.45% at 5 years after surgery.  The revision rates for patellar tendon grafts were 0.16% at 1 year after surgery, and 3.03% at 5 years after surgery.

Essentially, hamstring grafts had a 4x greater risk of revision in year one and 1.5x at 5 years following ACL reconstruction.

ACL reconstruction revision rates

The second study reviewed the nationwide Norwegian Cruciate Ligament Registry, which included 12,643 people undergoing ACL reconstruction between 2004 and 2012.

The revision rates for hamstring tendon grafts were 5.1% at 5 years after surgery, and 2.1% for patellar tendon grafts.  This study also looked at different age groups and found this increased rate to be consistent across all age group.s  However, the younger group (age 15-19) had a 9.5 revision rate at 5 years using the hamstring graft in comparison to 3.5% using a patellar tendon graft.

Together, there was a 2x greater risk of revision overall when using the hamstring graft, but closer to 3x greater risk for younger people.

ACL hamstring patellar tendon graft

 

Both Grafts are Great Options for ACL Reconstruction

When we really assess the numbers, it is clear that both graft options are great choices with low revision rates.  Even though we are comparing the two, realistically the revision rates after ACL reconstruction are low for both hamstring grafts and patellar tendon grafts.  There are many factors that go into deciding which graft to use.  Also realize this does not apply to skeletally immature patients.  This revision information is just a piece of the puzzle.

The patellar tendon graft has less failure rate and has been reported to heal faster in animal models due to the bone-to-tendon interface.  While this is true there are also reports of increased anterior knee pain and loss of motion.  I have discussed this in the past, but I really do believe that many of the issues with patellar tendon grafts after surgery are minimized or eliminated with proper physical therapy (in addition to excellent patient compliance).  This is especially true if these factors are the primary emphasis of the early phases of ACL rehabilitation.

SEE ALSO: 6 Keys to the Early Phases of Rehabilitation Following ACL Reconstruction Surgery

That all being said, hamstring grafts have also been shown to result in less strength of the hamstrings after surgery.  Considering the role of the hamstring to assist the ACL in control anterior tibial translation, this has to be considered when reviewing the higher ACL reconstruction revision rate when using hamstring grafts.  Perhaps it really has nothing to do with the graft itself and more to do with the hamstring strength.

Regardless, the revision rate following ACL reconstruction is higher when using a hamstring graft than when using a patellar tendon graft.

 

 

6 Keys to the Early Phases of Rehabilitation Following ACL Reconstruction Surgery

Rehabilitation following ACL reconstruction surgery has evolved significantly over the last 25 years.  We have progressed from casting the knee to allowing immediate motion and weight bearing in just a short amount of time.  As our understanding of rehabilitation concepts continue to evolve, our focus has shifted towards functional exercise and rehabilitation progressions, which is integral to maximize results following ACL reconstruction surgery.

We are now seeing professional athletes absolutely dominate their postoperative rehabilitation.  Adrian Peterson is now going to be the poster-boy for return to sports after ACL surgery after tearing up the league and winning NFL MVP just months after having ACL reconstruction surgery.  While, AP is definitely the exception, not the rule, the postoperative rehabilitation is a huge factor in determining how well people recover from surgery.

While everyone wants to talk about advanced exercises and return to sport, it is probably infinitely more important to assure that the early phases of rehabilitation go well to avoid complications and allow more advanced drills down the road.  If the early phases of ACL rehab go poorly, you will surely be behind for the duration of your rehab.

On that note, I wanted to discuss the 6 keys to the early phases of rehabilitation following ACL reconstruction surgery.  Master these basics and the advanced phases get easy.

 

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Diminish Pain and Inflammation

early rehabilitation following acl reconstruction surgeryThe first key to ACL Rehabilitation is simple, diminish the pain and inflammation associated with the surgery.  While this is a no-brainer, it is worth reviewing why this is so important.  Really, the following list of keys to ACL rehabilitation are all going to be difficult to achieve without addressing the pain and swelling.  Here are just handful of important things to consider:

  • Pain and swelling has been shown in numerous studies to essentially shut down your muscles around your knee, specifically your quadriceps.  Even a small amount of fluid in the joint has been shown to decrease your ability to contract your quad.
  • Without a quad, it is hard to function, and you tend to walk around with a bent and stiff knee.
  • Pain and swelling will limit your range of motion progression.

So, as simple as this concept may be, diminishing pain and inflammation should be an area of focus initially after surgery.  Compression wraps, ice, intermittent compression machines, elevation, ankle pumps, electrical stimulation, and not pushing through too much activity can all help.

My biggest advice to patients after surgery is that you can’t ice too much.

 

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Restore Full Knee Extension Motion

Loss of knee extensionRestoring full knee extension range of motion could be the #1 key to rehabilitation following ACL reconstruction surgery, however I chose to list it second here because addressing pain and swelling has implications for everything discussed in this article.  Really, though, my focus is almost always directed towards restoring full knee extension as soon as possible.  One of the more common complications following ACL surgery is loss of motion, with loss of extension being more troublesome than flexion.

When pain and swelling is present, it is just more comfortable to hold your knee in a slightly bent position.  Keep it this way too long and you run the risk of developing scar tissue, or arthrofibrosis.  Restoring knee extension immediately after surgery is so important, because once it gets tight, it’s often hard to get your motion back.  I’d much rather focus on this initially and slowly restore motion than get too tight and then have to aggressively attempt to improve motion.  That is never preferred.

Loss of full knee extension does not allow the knee to function properly, even if just a small loss of motion.  Plus, studies have shown loss of motion to be one of the most important factors associated with the development of arthritis after ACL surgery.

Luckily, with proper rehabilitation, loss of motion can be avoided.

In addition to my range of motion, soft tissue mobilization, and manual therapy techniques, I always instruct patients to perform a lot of range of motion and stretching exercises at home, essentially once an hour.  I like to show them hamstring stretches and calf towel stretches.  I don’t perform these stretches to really enhance hamstring and calf flexibility.  I perform them and instruct the patient to also work on knee extension at the same time.  So the focus is essentially knee extension.

Knee Extension Stretch ACL Reconstruction

Towel Knee Extension Stretch ACL Surgery

If loss of motion starts to become a problem, I don’t hesitate to start to introduce low-load long-duration stretching.  My goal is full knee extension by 1 week after surgery.  Biomechanical studies have shown that the stress of the ACL graft when stretching into extension is below the forces seen during common functional activities, so there is no need to avoid this motion.

This is such an important concept, that you may want to review my past article dedicated to restoring knee extension range of motion.

 

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Gradually Progress Knee Flexion Motion

Knee Flexion Range of Motion ACL RehabilitationAlthough loss of knee flexion doesn’t tend to be as common as knee extension, it does happen and you don’t want to neglect working on flexion.  There is often a see saw between flexion and extension.  The more you work on one, the more you tend to get stiff in the other direction.  This is reduced by working on frequent bouts of gentle but progressive range of motion.

I also like to empower the patient to also work on restoring knee flexion, both by stretching as well as through functional motions like mini-squats and eventually lunges.  When the patient can control their range of motion progression, their perceived threat is reduced and motion often comes back easier.

Knee flexion is restored more gradually, with about 90 degrees achieved at 1 week and full knee flexion gradually advanced and achieved by week 4-6.

 

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Maintain Patellar Mobility

Patellar Mobilization ACL RehabSometimes one of the reasons that range of motion is reduced is because patellar mobility is lost.  Full patella mobility is required for knee flexion and extension.  As the knee is painful, swollen, and difficult to move, scar tissue can form and limit patella mobility.  This is especially true if a patellar tendon graft is used for the ACL reconstruction surgery.  If patellar mobility is neglected, the chances of loosing range of motion goes up significantly.

Soft tissue mobilization around the knee and patellar mobilization is performed immediately after surgery.  I also like to instruct patients on how to do this themselves and add it to their homework.

 

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Restore Volitional Quad Control

NMES quad ACLAs previously mentioned, there is a reflexive inhibition of muscle control around the knee after surgery due to the pain, inflammation, and swelling.  In addition to address these factors, there are techniques that can be performed to help restore volitional control of the quadriceps muscle.

Lynn Snyder-Mackler, at the University of Delaware, has produced dozens of articles on the use of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) on the quad follow ACL surgery.  Essentially, NMES helps restore quad strength and function faster that just exercises without NMES.

Naturally NMES becomes an important component of the early phases of ACL rehabilitation.  I will superimpose most early quad exercises that we perform with NMES.  This includes quad sets, straight leg raises, and knee extension exercises.

An added benefit of all these quadriceps contractions is that this also helps restore knee extension range of motion.

 

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Restore Independent Ambulation

Retrowalking ACL Rehabilitation

Now that we have addressed the pain and swelling, started to restore motion and patellar mobility, and can now turn on the quads, we put it all together to work on being able to walk without limitations or a limp.  If any of the previously mentioned areas of focus have not been addressed, independent ambulation is often going to be difficult, or at least impaired.

I usually have people weight bearing as tolerated around week 1, unless other structures were damaged or need to be protected.  We may continue to use the crutches for up to two weeks, however, I still want them to be able to walk and just use the crutches as assistance, rather than, well, a crutch…

I have found weight bearing exercises like weight shifts that focus on transferring your weight and locking out your knee can be helpful initially.  I also tend to use cone walking drills to help groove the pattern of shifting weight and transitioning to single leg stance.  I have also found backward walking while stepping over a cone to be helpful to rock the body back over the foot and assist with achieving knee extension.

 

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More Information

Those are my 6 keys to the early phases of rehabilitation following ACL reconstruction surgery.  I try to focus on each one of those keys during each session I have with a patient.  These 6 keys are so important, that I would rather increase my visits early in the rehab process to assure that these are all addressed, then try to conserve visits (per our insurance limitations).

SEE ALSO: Download a free copy of my ACL Rehabilitation Protocol

Really, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you haven’t seen it yet, my coauthor Kevin Wilk has contributed 4 different webinars of  4 hours of content detailing exactly how he rehabs people following ACL reconstruction.  Kevin is no doubt one of the best there is at ACL rehab.  He and I have probably rehabbed over 1000 ACL reconstructions in our careers, including many professional athletes.  If you want to learn from the best, take a look at Kevin Wilk’s ACL Rehabilitation webinar series at RehabWebinars.com.

Wilk ACL Rehabilitation

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