If you’re facing surgery for a torn ACL, your focus is probably on getting back to the sport you love as soon as possible. What’s a realistic time frame for ACL recovery?
Ideally, you will give your body at least six months to heal after ACL surgery. 70% of post-ACL surgery ruptures occur in the six months directly after surgery, but studies show that the chance of reinjury decreases by 50% every month beyond month six that return to play is delayed.
Here’s what you can expect in the weeks and months following repair for a torn ACL:
The First 2 Weeks After Surgery
Expect to need crutches, and to be wearing a supportive brace. You shouldn’t be bearing any weight on the affected leg. You’ll see a lot of swelling and fluid buildup as your body reacts to the trauma of the surgical process. This is normal, as is some discomfort. However, if your pain is significant enough that you can’t sleep at night, talk to your doctor about additional pain management options to help you control the pain safely. Remember to R.I.C.E. — rest, ice, compression, elevation — in accordance with your doctor’s post-operative orders.
Between 2-6 Weeks After Surgery
You may notice you can start to bear weight on both legs, but you should limit activity while your tissues are actively healing. A protective brace may still be needed to protect your knee joint from unnecessary stress. Some patients are able to resume driving at some point, assuming they drive an automatic and the left knee is the one in a brace, not the right.
6 Weeks to 3 Months After Surgery
Your physical therapist will work with you to create your rehabilitative routine as you are able to progress beyond light stretching. Cycling, swimming, and rowing may all be on the table. Near the end of the first 90 days, you may be approved for light jogging if your rehabilitation team thinks your knee can safely take the light impact without reinjury.
The Critical Months: 3-6 Months After Surgery
By now, you’re probably dying to get back into full gear, but you have to remain patient. Your physical rehabilitation specialist may start you on sport-specific activities to help you prepare for a return to the field, and may also be showing you specific strengthening and flexibility exercises to help protect your newly put together knee from ACL tears in the future. Be resigned to the fact that you may still need a brace just to protect your joint. It would be a shame to come so far and then blow your knee out as you prepare your comeback.
After Six Months – Is Your Knee Fully Healed?
If your tear was relatively minor, surgery went perfectly, and you’ve been dedicated and careful about your recovery plan, you might be ready to return to playing your sport. However, there are many cases which can benefit from another 1-3 months of rehabilitation, and don’t say goodbye to your brace just yet; some doctors recommend using a supportive brace for up to two years after ACL surgery.Dr. Scott Strasburger of Syracuse Area Health – Strasburger Orthopaedics often uses cryotherapy in the form of iovera° injections as a preoperative solution for post-operative knee pain. To learn more, contact our office at 402-466-0100 or make an appointment online today.