The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is just one of four main ligaments in the knee that serve to connect the femur to the tibia. Accidents or injuries may lead the ACL to tear, to separate from the bone, or in severe cases, to separate and take a piece of the bone with it. Each of these scenarios may require surgical intervention to restabilize the knee and allow you to resume normal function.
An ACL surgery consists of repairing or reconstructing the damaged ACL, and ACL surgery recovery could take several months, depending on how quickly you heal and respond to physical therapy. There is no real way to speed the healing process, per se, but you can definitely take steps to ensure that there are no setbacks along the way. Here are a few cardinal rules to follow.
Follow Doctor’s Orders
After any surgical procedure, your doctor will provide a laundry list of instructions to follow, including how to properly wash and care for a wound, as well as what activities you can perform in the days and weeks following surgery.
It’s essential that you follow these directives if you want to heal fast from your ACL surgery. If you fail to perform assigned exercises intended to promote the healing process, or you decide you’re feeling better and attempt to resume normal activities before your body is ready, there’s a good chance you’ll suffer setbacks that extend your healing time.
You might think that rest is the best way to heal, and it’s true that your activities are going to be limited following an ACL surgery. However, the current school of thought is that starting to move soon after certain surgical procedures can actually help to promote healing and reduce scarring in the area that may lead to limited mobility or other issues later on.
You might be surprised to find that your doctor wants you moving around as early as the day of the surgery. It is extremely important that you only attempt activities and exercises approved by your doctor following ACL surgery. If you overdo it, you risk causing further injury and extending your healing time, or even requiring additional medical intervention.
Within about 7-10 days of the surgery, you will begin to experiment with placing weight on your leg, and you should be able to move around without the aid of crutches in about 2 weeks. During this time, you will probably have to work on knee extension until you are able to completely straighten your leg. From there you will work with a physical therapist.
Weeks 2-6 after surgery will focus on increasing your range of motion (extension and flexion) while your body continues to heal, and you will likely wear a knee brace during this time. From 6 weeks to 3 months after surgery, you’ll work on strength and mobility with low-impact activities like cycling, rowing, and swimming, for example, after which you may be able to begin higher impact exercises if all goes well.
As Dr. William Nordt M.D. and other specialists will tell you, the most important thing is to follow professional advice and listen to your body. This is the best way to ensure a speedy recovery.