While the typical operation only takes less than two hours, the full ACL recovery process can take up to six months or more. To ensure proper rehabilitation, the patient must get plenty of rest. He or she should also follow a rehabilitation program developed by the attending doctor or physical therapist. The goal of ACL surgery recovery is to strengthen the surrounding muscles and restore mobility of the knee. Learn more about the typical recovery process following ACL reconstruction.
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The patient will use crutches for up to four weeks following ACL surgery. The total time spent on crutches varies from person to person and depends on the procedure. For example, more complex procedures such as a meniscal repair or reconstruction of surrounding ligaments may prolong the time spent on crutches. In any case, the patient should expect to be out of work for a few days to a few weeks. This still depends on the physical demands of their job. The doctor will insist the patient avoid weight-bearing activities during this time.
Initial recovery focuses on reducing swelling and improving extension of the knee. The patient should elevate and apply ice to the leg and keep the bandages clean and dry. Depending on the nature of the surgery, the doctor may allow the patient to ride a stationary bike to aid in restoring mobility. By the end of these two weeks, the patient should be able to fully extend the knee. If the initial recovery progresses well, the doctor will allow the patient to forfeit the crutches, drive, and return to work.
After two weeks, the patient will be able to bear some weight on the knee. The doctor will most likely fit the patient for a knee brace to wear for up to six weeks. The patient will visit a physical therapist several times per week. The goal is to restore full range of motion in the knee, including flexion. Strength and mobility exercises typically revolve around light weights and resistance bands. Endurance and body awareness exercises incorporate the treadmill, stair climber, and elliptical machine. The physical therapist will devise a rehabilitation program that best fits the patient’s physical ability.
The physical therapist will continue to help the patient restore the strength and function of the knee. The exercises may increase in intensity to promote greater strength, endurance, and power. Depending on the patient’s progress, the physical therapist may add jogging and/or running to the rehabilitation program.
At the four-to-six month mark, the doctor will examine the patient to determine if he or she can resume all normal activities. The patient must demonstrate full, comfortable range of motion, a lack of soft tissue complications, and sufficient strength, endurance, and body awareness. If the patient meets the requirements, the doctor will give the all-clear and conclude the recovery. The doctor may also recommend that the patient wear functional bracing for up to two years after the surgery
Invasive surgeries, such as ACL reconstruction, present a risk of bleeding and infection. Fortunately, ACL reconstruction surgery carries only a 0.2 percent rate of infection, much lower than most other surgical procedures. The risk of bleeding is also quite low at less than one percent.
The most commonly reported complication during ACL surgery recovery is reduced mobility. The severity varies from patient to patient. By adhering to the rehabilitation program developed by their physical therapist, the patient can minimize the risk of losing mobility. In fact, most ACL surgery rehabilitation programs begin with light exercises to restore knee mobility.
Another possible complication following ACL reconstruction is anterior knee weakness. This is often linked to reduced mobility. Doctors often address this risk by having the patient perform weight-bearing exercises to strengthen the quadriceps muscles above the knee.
A patient who experiences infection, bleeding, or other complications during ACL surgery recovery should call their doctor immediately. Additionally, patients must also watch out for other possible complications, including discharge from the incision, swelling of the calf muscle, a fever exceeding 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and muscle discomfort or weakness that does not respond to the prescribed exercises or medication.
Watch this illustrated ACL surgery recovery video from ReadyMedGo:
The ACL surgery recovery process takes time. Patients should follow their rehabilitation program and avoid rushing recovery. Consistency, gradual progression, and careful monitoring and reporting of complications will ensure proper healing.
What else should patients know about ACL surgery recovery, treatment, and management? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.