Tearing the anterior cruciate ligament is a fairly common injury in athletes and recovery times vary widely. Progress needs to be made at a certain pace without compromising knee reconstruction surgery. Here’s an idea of what patients can expect during their recovery from ACL reconstructive surgery.
ACL Recovery Timeline
One to Two Weeks After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Surgery
Pain and swelling should be controlled at this point. Light movement, elevation, compression, and ice can help to reduce the swelling. The incision site must heal before you will regain a full range of motion to the affected knee. By the second week after surgery, you should be able to extend (straighten) your leg completely. Although the time it takes to fully bear weight on the knee varies, wearing a brace for support may help to provide additional comfort and security. However, there is no research documenting any clinical benefits of bracing in the immediate post-surgical period for ACL reconstruction alone (i.e. no other ligaments injured or repaired).
In the first couple of weeks following surgery, it’s vital to regain activity in the quadriceps and hamstrings, as these muscle groups are the prime movers and dynamic stabilizers of the knee joint. You should be able to drive a car within one to four weeks of your surgery depending upon your individual recovery, which side was injured and the type of vehicle that you drive.
One to Two Months After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Surgery
It should take about a month to be able to climb stairs comfortably following surgery. Most patients have returned to a normal daily return with no pain or swelling after the first month (and often sooner). However it is extremely to important to remember that, no matter how great the knee feels, the new ligament is very susceptible to stretching and re-injury for up to six months after surgery. For this reason it is NOT recommended to begin running, biking or other sports earlier than recommended, even if you feel you are a “quick healer.”
Two Months or More Following Knee Surgery
At this point, patients who have undergone reconstruction surgery should be able to take on light jogging, depending upon the range of motion of the knee, swelling and pain. Patients can begin sprinting if they are able to run without a limp. At about two to four months following surgery, patients should be able to begin regaining all of their functional movement patterns.
Six months to One Year Following Knee Surgery
Full strength in the quadriceps should return about nine to twelve months following surgery. To return to sports, you should regain about 90 percent of your strength on the opposite side of your body. The strength of the quads is one of the deciding factors for when athletes are deemed “ready” to play their sport again. Hamstring strength is also a factor in the recovery process, as this group of muscles works directly with the anterior cruciate ligament.
Good balance should be achieved within this time frame, and the ability to regain strength is one of the most important factors before returning to sports and other activities.
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The stronger you were when you suffered the injury, the easier it is to return to physical activities. No matter how long it takes to recover from reconstructive surgery, the process can be long, tedious, and often difficult, but with the right advice and therapy following surgery, a full recovery is possible.
Next, learn about ACL Reconstruction.