Recovery from ACL Surgery
ACL reconstruction surgery is minimally invasive outpatient surgery performed under general and/or regional anesthetic depending on the case. Recovery takes 6 to 12 months. Athletes with ACL reconstruction may return to play within 9-12 months after surgery. However, this is a general timeline. Recovery and return to play times vary for each patient. You will receive complete post-op instructions for home care and physical therapy. Below is an overview of the typical ACL reconstruction.
What to expect
You will be in the recovery room for about two hours until you are fully awake. Physical therapy begins on day 1 to work on range of motion. Additional conservative management includes involves rest, ice, compression and elevation to treat pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Blood clots: Immediately after you wake up you will be instructed to do some simple ankle exercises to improve your circulation and prevent blood clots for 2-3 days. If you or your family have a history of blood clots, speak with Dr. Chahla about additional prevention.
- Rest: You will be tired, and your knee will be swollen. You may have numbness around your incisions and your leg may be bruised. Most of this will resolve in a few days. Bruising is normal after the surgery as well as some bleeding and typically stops in 2 to 3 days.
- Icing: Ice your knee regularly after surgery. You may decide to rent an ice machine.
- Elevation: Elevate your leg at a 45-degree angle, at least 12 inches above your heart, 4-6 times a day for the first 2-3 days. Prop up your leg with pillows at the heels or calf, but not the back of the knee to help keep your knee straight. Whenever your knee swells or throbs, you should elevate your leg.
- Crutches: Going home after surgery, you will be on crutches. You will not be allowed to weight bear on the operated leg for the first four weeks after surgery. You might then be able to progress to partial weight bearing for 2 weeks. After this initial period, you may wean off of crutches when you can walk without a limp. If other injuries are treated at the time of surgery, such as a meniscus repair, it can take one to two months to regain full use of your knee.
- Pain: Take your pain medication even before the regional anesthetic has worn off, which typically wears off 12 hours after surgery. Take your pain medication regularly for the first few days.
- Wound care: You will have a dressing with an ace bandage that may be removed the day after surgery. Keep the dressing and wound dry and clean.
- Bathing: Use sponge baths until the bandages are removed. After your bandages are removed you can shower with your leg wrapped in plastic. After your stitches or tape have been removed you can get the knee wet, but be careful to dry thoroughly.
- Knee brace: You may wear a knee brace to limit your movement. If you have trouble sleeping with the brace or want to shower, discuss this with Dr. Chahla. If you take off your brace, take care not to bump or move the knee. You should wear your brace while using crutches and learn to go up and down the stairs using the brace.
- Exercises: Perform straight leg raises, and gently straighten and bend the knee. The goal is to strengthen your muscles and improve your range of motion. You will receive exercises from your physical therapist as well that will aid in improving your range of motion.
- Monitor your temperature. It is common to develop a low-grade fever for the first few days after surgery. If you have a fever higher than 101, call Dr. Chahla.
- Driving: You can usually return to driving two to three weeks after you’re able to walk.
Post Op Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation usually begins 1- 3 days after surgery and will continue for up to 6 months. The goal is to restore range of motion, build your strength, and avoid additional injury. Your exercise routine will be developed with your physical therapist. Stationary bike riding is permitted for the first 3 months after surgery, to strengthen the quadriceps. No swimming or running is allowed for at least 5 months after surgery.
Endurance and strengthening can be started in the second phase of the rehabilitation. Agility exercises start at 4 months along with the running progression if previous stages have been successfully completed.
Call your doctor if:
- You are bleeding heavily and cannot stop it
- Pain is not relieved with medication
- If you have pain or swelling in your calf muscle
- Your toes look blue or are cool to the touch
- Your incisions are red, swollen, and painful, or if there is any discharge from the incisions
- If your temp is above 101 degrees F.
At a Glance
Dr. Jorge Chahla
- Triple fellowship-trained sports medicine surgeon
- Performs over 500 surgeries per year
- Professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush University
- Learn more