Your ACL Journey
Your pocket guide to ACL injuries and the recovery timeline after surgery
Written by Medical Quality Manager, Clare , BN (Hons)
Medical Review by Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Dan Howcroft , FRCS (Tr&Orth), MBBS
Published: Wednesday, 29 December 2021
What is an ACL tear & how do they happen?
It’s surprisingly easy to tear your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). It could be anything from a bad landing while playing sports, to jumping on a trampoline or dancing at a party on the weekend. ACL sprains and tears are among the most common knee injuries, affecting everyone from those having a kick about with a football with friends right up to professional athletes. Basically, anyone involved in any physical activity is at some level of risk of tearing their ACL.
Repeat tears are common
If you shred your ACL and go back to playing sport, you’re six times more likely to tear an ACL again in either knee within two years. But for the sporty minded, giving up and quitting isn’t an option at all, so full recovery from ACL injuries is the number one priority.
Will you need surgery?
Most people require surgery in order to prevent further injury. The procedure is typically a 75-minute outpatient operation, which means that you won’t have to spend a night away from home. Most people have a tendon graft, which involves the surgeon reconnecting your torn ACL using a piece of tissue from another part of your body (autograft) or from a donor tissue bank (allograft).
In the "autograft" version of the procedure, the doctor uses one of your own tendons. This could be the patellar tendon, which connects your knee cap to your lower leg. The hamstring or the quadriceps tendons can also be used.
With an "allograft," the tissue comes from a certified donor tissue bank. These rebuilds work just as well as autografts most of the time, but there is a slightly higher risk that the graft will tear again if it’s used in young people.
The goal of your surgery is to create a system that acts like an ACL. Your surgeon will drill tunnels through the bone to house the new graft and then thread the new ligament through the tunnels and anchor it on both sides. Over time it grows into the bone and becomes part of your body.
A recovery timeline
Physiotherapy is key to the recovery process and begins almost immediately after your procedure. You’ll be given crutches to help you move around and exercises to do, to ease you back to a full range of movement. You might also need a brace. The first few months are very important in your recovery journey, here’s what to expect:
1-3 Weeks: During the first 2 weeks, you’ll get your stitches out. If your job isn’t active, you’ll be able to return to work by week 2. Physiotherapy will concentrate primarily on straightening your knee, strengthening your quad and getting the swelling down.
By the end of week 2, you’ll be able to walk without crutches and get back behind the wheel.
4-6 weeks: By this time, you’re walking normally, and you’ll continue with physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will incorporate some weight machines and exercises into your routine to strengthen the muscles supporting the joint. If you have a physically active job, by this point you’ll be all set to head back to work.
7-12 weeks: Stiffness and swelling should be almost gone in week 8, which means you’ll have a full range of motion in your knee. It's important to check with your surgeon before starting any activities again, but by this time you should be able to slowly add activities like biking, swimming and jogging back to your life.
4-6 months: By now you’ll be back to your favourite activities, and just about ready to hit the field or slopes.
After 6 months: You’re fully active with no tenderness in the knee. You’ll be able to get back to most activities, but your doctor might not allow you to get back activities that are harder on the knee, like football or kickboxing, for another few months, just to make sure you’re fit as a fiddle.
Will your knee be the same?
The vast majority of patients are very satisfied with their ACL reconstruction surgery. Surgery lowers your chances of arthritis and further damage to the cartilage in your knee. If you think that this might be something that can help you get back to your passions, your Medbelle Patient Care Adviser is ready to help you speak to a surgeon.
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