ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) surgery is typically recommended when conservative or non-surgical treatments have proven insufficient to address a torn or injured ACL. While the surgery itself is a critical step in restoring knee stability and function, understanding what to expect after the procedure will help ensure a smoother recovery.
The orthopedic surgeons at Northwest Extremity Specialists have provided this guide as a general reference for patients preparing for an ACL reconstruction. If you have specific questions or concerns regarding your recovery from ACL surgery, we encourage you to contact our office for assistance.
Immediate Post-Op Phase (First 2 Weeks After Surgery)
Patients are often discharged on the same day as the surgery. However, some may require an overnight stay in the hospital for close monitoring.
You may have a low-grade fever of up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 or 5 days after surgery. This can be managed with acetaminophen, but you should tell your surgeon if your temperature is higher or you’re still experiencing a fever after this timeframe.
Some discomfort is to be expected during the early post-operative phase. Your surgeon will provide you with prescribed pain medications. Regularly applying ice to your knee and keeping it elevated can also help reduce the discomfort caused by swelling.
You'll likely be provided with a knee brace or immobilizer. This device helps keep your knee in the proper position and provides support as it heals.
Using crutches will be necessary for 7 to 10 days following surgery. These crutches will help you avoid putting any weight on the operated leg. It's vital to use them as directed to protect your newly reconstructed ACL and promote proper healing.
Mid-Term Recovery (Weeks 3 to 12)
This phase is characterized by a gradual transition towards greater independence and a focus on rebuilding strength, flexibility, and function in your knee. It's essential to maintain a positive attitude and remain committed to your rehabilitation program as you work toward regaining full knee function and ultimately returning to your desired level of activity.
One of the key milestones during this period is the gradual increase in weight-bearing on the surgically repaired leg. This transition is typically executed under the careful guidance of your physical therapist and surgeon. They will provide a structured plan to shift more weight onto the operated leg, allowing your knee to gradually adapt and strengthen. However, your care team will likely recommend avoiding twisting movements or full knee bends for at least 6 weeks after surgery.
Depending on the nature of your daily activities, you may begin reintegrating some normal activities into your routine during this phase. Walking, driving, and returning to work may become more feasible as your knee strengthens and your range of motion improves. However, you must remain cautious and consult your health care team to ensure you progress safely.
Long-Term Rehabilitation (3 to 6 Months)
In this phase, your rehabilitation will focus on functional exercises. These exercises mimic daily activities and movements, helping you regain confidence in your knee's ability to support your everyday life. These activities may include walking, climbing stairs, and squatting. The emphasis is on building the strength, stability, and coordination that will allow you to navigate daily tasks safely.
For athletes, sport-specific training may be introduced during long-term rehabilitation. This specialized training is designed to mimic the movements and demands of your particular sport. It helps you regain the skills and agility required for your chosen athletic activity. However, you should not run for 5 months. You can swim with your arms only (without paddling your feet) 2 to 3 months after surgery if your surgeon feels your recovery is progressing normally.
Regular follow-up appointments with your orthopedic surgeon will remain essential during the long-term rehabilitation phase. These appointments are crucial for monitoring your long-term progress and ensuring your knee is healing correctly. Your surgeon will assess your range of motion, strength, and overall knee function, making any necessary adjustments to your rehabilitation plan.
Full Recovery (6 to 12 Months)
Every patient is unique, but full recovery after ACL surgery typically takes 6 to 12 months. If you have concerns about how your recovery is progressing, we encourage you to bring these issues to the attention of your orthopedic surgeon.