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11 Reasons To Use A Stationary Bike After ACL Surgery

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Are you recovering from ACL surgery and looking for a low-impact workout option? One that is recommended by most physios is a stationary bike.

Not only is a stationary bike a great way to rebuild strength in your knee following ACL surgery, but it also offers a variety of other benefits for your overall health and well-being. 

In this post, I’ll be discussing 11 reasons why stationary bikes are a fantastic choice for post-ACL surgery recovery and why you should consider incorporating them into your workout routine. 

In particular, I’ll look at:

  • 11 ways that stationary bikes help in ACL recovery
  • How your rehab plan can incorporate a stationary bike
  • Potential risks and precautions
  • How to choose the right type of stationary bike
Physio following ACL surgery

How Stationary Bikes Help in ACL Recovery

In a nutshell…

Stationary biking is a great way to improve range of motion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

The low-impact nature of the exercise makes it easy on the joints and reduces the risk of further injury. The repetitive motion of pedaling helps to improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles that support the knee, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

Stationary biking also helps to increase blood flow to the knee, which can speed up the healing process and reduce inflammation.

Let’s take a look at the most important 11 reasons to use a stationary bike after an ACL operation:

11 Reasons To Use Stationary Bikes After ACL Surgery

1. Better Range of Motion

Cycling exercises are a great way to deal with the inevitable loss of range of motion that comes with ACL reconstruction surgery.

Performing range-of-motion exercises after undergoing orthopedic surgery (such as an ACL reconstruction) is essential for a speedy recovery. (Source)

An integral aspect of recovering from an ACL injury is working on strengthening the muscles that support your knee.

The strength you develop, however, will have minimal application if your range of motion is poor. This will make it very difficult to walk, use the stairs, or squat, all of which involve bending and straightening the knee.

2. Stress Relief

Stationary biking can be a great way to relieve stress and improve mental health.

Exercise has been shown to boost mood and reduce anxiety, which can be beneficial for people recovering from ACL surgery.

Recovery from ACL surgery is a long and arduous experience. It is as much a mental process as a physical one.

Indoor cycling releases hormones, many of which act positively on your brain and feeling of wellness. These include the following:

Dopamine-Dopamine is released in the brain
-Helps you feel pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction
Oxytocin-Anti-stress hormone
-Reduces cortisol levels and blood pressure
Serotonin-Created in the brain and spinal cord
-Helps to regulate attention, digestion, and body temperature
Endorphins-Helps reduce stress and pain
-Released during stress, pain, exercise

3. Reduced Risk of Knee Arthritis

Regular exercise, like stationary biking, can help reduce the risk of knee arthritis.

This is particularly important for people who have had ACL surgery, as they are at an increased risk of developing arthritis later in life. (Source)

Stationary cycling has been shown to be beneficial for lowering arthritis risk and promoting healthy knees by building muscle and increasing mobility in the knee joint.

4. Increased Muscle Tone

Using a stationary bike can help tone and strengthen the muscles in your legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

The physical therapist’s primary goal during rehabilitation is to restore full size and strength to the quadriceps (the muscle group in the front of the leg). (Source)

If you want to start working on your knee strength, the stationary bike is a fantastic piece of equipment to use.

Many of the actions involved in cycling are similar to those of walking, including the use of both legs to propel the rider forward and the use of similar muscle activation patterns.

Because of this, the stationary bike is an excellent instrument for re-establishing the knees’ natural ability to move in opposite directions. This can help improve your overall leg strength, which is important for ACL recovery.

5. Low-Impact Exercise

Stationary bikes are a low-impact form of exercise, making them a great option for people recovering from ACL surgery.

The lack of impact on the knee joint reduces the risk of further injury, while still allowing for an effective workout.

The stationary bike is a terrific activity to incorporate because it gets your knee moving without putting your whole body weight through the joint.

As a bonus, it encourages simultaneous knee extension (straightening) and flexion (bending)!

It is also a non-weight bearing exercise – which means your body weight is not supported by your legs (but by your saddle). These types of exercises are ideal for ACL recovery.

Here’s a table showing you if an activity is weight-bearing or non-weight-bearing:

Cardio ExerciseWeight-BearingNon-Weight-Bearing
HIIT AerobicsX
Cycling (In Saddle)X
Hand CycleX
Jump RopeX

6. Improved Cardiovascular Health

Stationary biking is a great cardiovascular workout. It increases your heart rate and improves blood flow, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Regular exercise, like stationary biking, can also help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

This is particularly important for people recovering from ACL surgery, as they may be at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease due to a sedentary lifestyle during recovery.

7. Improved Weight Management

Stationary biking is an effective way to burn calories, which can help with weight management.

This is important for ACL recovery because carrying extra weight can put additional stress on the knee joint.

By burning calories and losing weight, you can reduce the stress on your knee, which can help with recovery and reduce the risk of re-injury.

8. Increased Endurance

Stationary biking can help increase endurance and stamina.

This is important for ACL recovery, as it can help improve your overall fitness level and make it easier to engage in other forms of exercise.

Your range of motion and strength in your surgically repaired knee will greatly benefit from regular sessions on the stationary bike.

The vast majority of individuals who seek medical attention after suffering an ACL tear are athletes or otherwise physically active people who are eager to get back to their regular routines.

After undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery, you may find that your endurance and aerobic fitness have decreased.

To combat this, riding a stationary bike is a fantastic way to get your heart rate up and address this issue.

Indoor stationary bike for rehab after ACL

9. Better Balance and Coordination

Stationary biking can help improve balance and coordination, which can help reduce the risk of falls and other accidents.

This is particularly important for people recovering from ACL surgery, as they may be at an increased risk of falls due to the disruption of the knee joint.

As you pedal on a stationary bike, you’ll be using your core muscles to maintain balance, which can help improve your overall balance and coordination.

10. Convenient and Easy to Use

Stationary bikes are easy to use and can be found at most gyms and fitness centers.

They can also be purchased for home use, making them a convenient option for people recovering from ACL surgery.

11. Cost-Effective

Stationary bikes are a cost-effective option for people recovering from ACL surgery.

They are relatively inexpensive to purchase or use at a gym, and they can provide a wide range of benefits for overall health and well-being.

Rehab for the ACL – Stationary Bike

As soon as you feel comfortable moving your muscles again, you should begin strengthening them.

This will help you place more of your weight on that leg. It’s recommended that you stretch and warm up first.

If you’ve just had an injury, you should hold off on this activity until the swelling and soreness have subsided, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.

  • Once your leg is able to rotate completely, cycle slowly for 5-10 minutes. Switch between forward and reverse pedaling.
  • Pedal steadily and quickly as your flexibility increases.
  • Pedal for a few extra minutes at a harder pace every day to build stamina.

Tip: Begin riding a stationary bike for 10 minutes per day when your knees can bend more than 90 degrees (7-14 days).

Slowly work up to 20 minutes a week by adding 2 minutes per week.

Start with half circles forward and back (pendulum exercises) in a high seat, and work your way up to full circles in a lower seat. You should begin with no resistance and progressively add it over the course of four weeks. (Source)

I found a fantastic video on DeeO’s channel, where he discusses his ACL operation recovery, and shows his thoughts about getting on a stationary bike for the first time in his rehab:

How To Incorporate Stationary Biking into Your Recovery Plan

It is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your stationary biking sessions as you progress in your recovery.

Your physical therapist can help you to determine the appropriate starting point and provide guidance on how to increase the intensity over time.

It’s also essential to incorporate other forms of exercise, such as swimming and stretching, into your recovery plan.

This will help to improve muscle strength and flexibility, which are essential for knee stability. Monitoring your progress and adjusting your plan as needed is crucial for ensuring a successful recovery.

Potential Risks and Precautions

As with any form of exercise, there are potential risks and precautions to be aware of when using stationary bikes after ACL surgery.

Some possible issues are:

  1. It’s essential to start slowly and not overdo it, as this can lead to pain and inflammation.
  2. It’s also important to be aware of the potential for overuse injuries, such as shin splints or knee pain.
  3. Take sure to use proper form and take frequent breaks.
  4. If you experience any pain or discomfort, it’s important to stop and try other forms of low-impact exercises.

Choosing the Right Stationary Bike

There are several types of stationary bikes available, including upright bikes, recumbent bikes, and spin bikes.

The type of bike best for you will depend on your specific needs and goals. Here’s a general run-down:

  • Upright bikes are the most traditional type of stationary bike and are similar to traditional road bikes.
  • Recumbent bikes have a seat that is more like a chair, which can be more comfortable for individuals with back or knee pain.
  • Spin bikes are designed to mimic the feeling of outdoor cycling and are often used in group fitness classes.

Position on a Recumbent Bike

The semi-recumbent position of a recumbent bike redistributes body weight, limits hip mobility, and provides a strong backrest against which to push.

Similar to a traditional bicycle, a recumbent bike requires the rider to primarily use their legs to propel them forward. Research conducted at Colorado State University found that the ACL is less likely to be injured while riding a recumbent bike.

Research indicates that the knee’s range of motion is similar whether one rides a traditional bicycle or a recumbent bike.

To lessen pressure on the knee joint, it’s best to adjust the seat as much forward or as far back as it will go. The hips should not rotate and the knee should be slightly bent when pedaling.

Position on an Upright Bike

Your doctor won’t let you start knee rehabilitation on an upright bike until your range of motion is at least 100 degrees, which is enough for one full revolution.

If the saddle is excessively high, extra force is applied to the anterior cruciate ligament and the iliotibial band as the knee bends. The patellofemoral joint suffers additional stress when the saddle is set too low.

The Cartilage Health website advises starting off with a high saddle to help reestablish range of motion but lowering the seat as it becomes easier to complete a full pedal rotation.

What to Choose?

Recumbent bikes are easier to use than upright bikes, so many doctors recommend starting with one of these to help patients get back into shape following knee injuries.

When riding an upright bike, it can be tempting to rise up and put undue pressure on the knees.

A person’s choice of bicycle to ride should be guided by their doctor’s advice, their knee’s range of motion, the nature of their injury, their capacity for intensity regulation, and their own preference. (Source)

Wrapping Up

Stationary biking is an excellent form of exercise for individuals recovering from ACL surgery.

It offers a low-impact, easy-to-perform form of exercise that can help to improve range of motion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

The convenience and versatility of stationary bikes make them accessible to a wide range of patients and fitness levels.

It’s important to remember that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all process and that everyone’s journey will be unique. With the right mindset, dedication, and support, patients can successfully recover from ACL surgery and regain the confidence to enjoy the activities they love!