Friday, 30 March 2012

Starting Recreational Running: Years After an ACL Reconstruction

When I started running, I was having a lot of problems with pain in my knee where I had had a ACL reconstruction abut 7 years ago. I wanted to find out what others had experienced and found information about running, years after a reconstruction difficult to find. This is my experience and I hope it is helpful to someone wondering about the same thing.

*Image credit 

 I ruptured my Anterior Cruciate Ligament ACL playing netball in a so called ‘fun’ mixed teams competition which was actually way more competitive and aggressive than it needed to be! Months after the initial injury, I found I was still unable to do many normal things. My knee was too unstable to walk on uneven surfaces. Bushwalking was impossible. Stairs caused lots of pain. I couldn't run or participate in any sport without pain or my knee giving way. Even stirring food whilst cooking would cause my knee to ‘jiggle’ and collapse.

I decided to have my ACL reconstructed. The surgeon used key-hole surgery to repair the ACL with tissue from under my knee.

Since the operation I have been able to do everything I could before the injury and I had almost forgotten all about it…until I started running.

After some runs, especially longer or faster runs my knee would feel very painful, a little swollen and just about always stiff. For a time, I even wondered if I wouldn’t be able to run because of my knee.

After doing a lot of reading around this topic I decided to try to do some exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee with the aim of helping to stabilize it. I had also read that the core muscles are also important to keep the knee tracking straight. unstable core  may lead to problems with the leg muscles compensating and damaging the knees.

Going to a gym was not practical for me at the time, so I started on my exercise program at home for 30 minutes a day. I started off with 2 legged squats, lunges, planks, crunches and lots of exercise ball work. I started very slowly and gradually increased the number of reps. I would stop as soon as I felt any discomfort in my knee.

I progressed to doing the squats and lunges holding 5kg  weights and  even managed one legged squats too! I now incorporate the lunges and squats into my warm-up routine for my runs.

I noticed that the core and leg exercises had an enormous impact on my running. I felt stronger and more upright when I ran. Most importantly to me, my knee doesn’t cause me much pain at all anymore. Sometimes after a long run it can feel a little stiff. But before,  I was limping after every run. I began to notice a real difference just two weeks into the exercise routine.

I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald* about sports injuries, particularly of the knee such as osteoarthritis and rupture of the ACL. The article suggests that leg strengthening exercises such as squats and lunges be incorporated into all sports as a strategy to prevent rupture of the ACL. The article states that  “Simple conditioning programs have been shown to lower the risk of this injury by as much as 60 per cent”. I think this is a very good idea. Currently my daughters (7 and 8) want to go for runs with me because they are 'training' for their school cross-country events. I make sure we all do a warm-up together with lunges and squats.

In my experience the leg strength exercises really helped prevent knee pain after my ACL reconstruction. It also appears, according to the SMH article, that similar exercises can help prevent ACL injury as well.

I hope this post can offer some useful information to looking at getting back into running after an ACL reconstruction. But it has just been my experience. Please check with a sports doctor, physiotherapist or a suitably qualified professional before recommencing running or embarking on a new exercise program.


  1. Good work Nicole - I think the warm up exercises are a great tip for all runners regardless if they have had an acl injusry or not. I know sometimes we just want to get intothe run but I know from my experience too I always run better after some warm up squats.

    1. Thanks! I love my warm-up too, It's become almost a superstitious thing where I have to warm up before I run :)

  2. Fantastic work.
    I think we underestimate the human body and it's reliance on ALL systems working effectively.I love how proactive you were in your own rehab.
    Happy running!
    :-) xx

    1. Thanks Shar! I agree. I think there is more and more research highlighting the importance of exercising all the bodies systems for injury prevention and performance.