5 ACL EXERCISES TO KEEP YOUR JOINTS HEALTHY
Standing Forward Bend
You don’t have to be a total yogi to get a good stretch from the forward bend. Because the pose engages the calves, hamstrings, and thighs, the forward bend is important for ACL health. Engaging the surrounding muscle groups will strengthen those muscles and improve the overall flexibility in the area, helping to prevent pain or injury.
Standing on your mat, start with your hands on your hips. Bend forward from your hip joints as you exhale, lengthening your upper body as you reach toward the mat. Reach your fingers toward the floor and touch it with your fingers or your palms. You can also reach around or behind your ankles. If you can’t keep your knees from bending while reaching toward the floor or if you can’t reach that far, you can modify the stretch and reach toward a chair to support you while you stretch downward. Relax your shoulders and neck, letting the head hang freely. Remember to breathe as you deepen the stretch. To come out of the pose, bring your hands up to your hips, push your tailbone down, and breathe in as you bring your upper body back up.
The benefit of the Warrior is that it will help strengthen the vastus medialis (inner quadriceps). This is a key muscle when it comes to overall knee health, and it will help strengthen the ACL and help relieve stiffness.
Stand on a yoga mat facing the long side with your feet aligned under your hips, arms at your sides. Widen your stance, keeping your feet 4-5 feet apart. Turn your right foot toward the front of your mat and bend the knee 90 degrees. You can then turn your left foot in perpendicular to your right, and keep your feet aligned. Keeping your back straight, press down on the back foot and feel a good stretch. Hold the pose as long as it’s comfortable. To release the pose, focus your weight on the back heel, straighten your front leg, and come back to standing. You can then repeat the process on the other side.
Bridge is another ideal exercise to help strengthen and protect the ACL, because it doesn’t place any added stress on the area around the knee while providing a gentle stretch to help improve flexibility and strength.
Lie flat on the mat or with a blanket under your shoulders to support your neck. Bend your knees and stretch your arms straight down toward your heels. Bring the tailbone up and forward without flexing your glutes or buttocks, so that your thighs are parallel to the mat. Keep your chin off your chest as you roll the shoulders back and press your forearms into the mat. You can clasp the hands or keep them parallel. Hold the pose for several breaths then return the spine slowly to the mat.
Exercises like Downward-Facing Dog can engage the essential muscles that support the ACL while providing a gentle stretch that doesn’t add extra stress to the joint.
Begin on your mat on your hands and knees. Align your wrists with your shoulders. Bring your hands toward the top of the mat with a wide grip, fingers pointing toward the edge of the mat. Lengthen your arms supporting your upper body, and relax your upper back. Step toward the back of the mat, lifting your knees off the floor. Begin to straighten your legs, pushing your thighs back without locking your knees. Push your fingers into the floor as you engage the outer muscles of your arms, and draw your shoulders into the back toward the tailbone. Keep your neck relaxed, but don’t let the head dangle. Press back on your heels toward the floor, keeping your spine long and arms and core engaged, lifting the sitting bones toward the ceiling. You can also use this stretch to engage the hips. Bend one knee while keeping the other straight, and alternate. To release the pose, release the knees and come back to your hands and knees.
Tree pose is a good stretch for the ACL because it helps improve balance, meaning it will engage the stabilizer muscles in the leg and around the knee in a gentle way that will strengthen you and help improve flexibility.
Stand on your mat with your arms at your sides. Ground your weight evenly between each foot, being aware of the whole foot and each toe. Using your hand, bring the right foot up to the left inner thigh, shin, or ankle, depending on your ability to stay balanced. Do not rest your foot on the knee. Place your hands on your hips and feel the length of your spine. Bring your hands together at your chest, thumbs held at the sternum. Press your right foot into your left thigh, concentrating your weight through your left leg downward. If you can, bring your arms above your head and reach toward the ceiling with your fingers. If you cannot manage the stretch upward, keep your hands at the heart. When you’re ready, bring your feet back to the floor and switch sides.
Before beginning any exercise regimen, consult with your physician to determine if these exercise recommendations are the ideal choices for your personal situation.