Recovering From ACL Surgery: What to Expect

Patients scheduled for ACL repair surgery commonly want to know what to expect and when they can return to their normal routine. The timeline and particulars of recovery vary from person to person. For most people, it takes 2-9 months to completely recover from ACL surgery.

If you sustain an ACL injury, you can rely on orthopedic surgeon Joel Hurt, MD, to help you get back on your feet after ACL repair surgery. In this post, we discuss the average timeline and the typical rehabilitation process.

Weeks 1-2

The first two weeks post-ACL repair surgery are crucial. Your body is most vulnerable to complications during this time. You can expect to experience some pain and inflammation around the knee joint.

Cold therapy plays an important role in controlling inflammation during the first two weeks of recovery from ACL surgery. Dr. Hurt may recommend adding active compression to further minimize swelling and pain. Keeping the affected leg elevated also helps to reduce inflammation.

Follow your post-surgery instructions carefully. This may include exercises for you to perform daily.

You can expect to use a knee immobilizer and crutches during this time to keep the knee stable and keep weight off the recovering leg. The amount of time you’ll use crutches depends on various factors. Some patients are off crutches two weeks after their surgery.

Your care team will provide guidance every step of the way and let you know when you’re ready to leave your crutches behind. Plan on taking it easy during this time to support your body in recovery. 

Weeks 3-6

By week three, most patients can wean off the knee immobilizer but may still need to use crutches. When you can bend your knee at least 100 degrees, you can start using a stationary bike. Activity is limited during this phase, even if you’re able to bear weight on the recovering leg.

You can expect to attend regular sessions with a physical therapist to help strengthen your leg. The goal starting week three is to regain full range of motion. Your physical therapist will add specific exercises to help you accomplish this.   

Weeks 6-12

By week six, your knee should feel stronger. The goal is to continue to build strength in the recovering knee. While certain activities like mountain biking are typically still restricted during this period of recovery, most patients can engage in low-impact activities. Dr. Hurt and your physical therapist will guide you on what activities are safe to engage in at this stage in your ACL repair recovery. 

Weeks 12-24

At week 12, most patients are eager to return to sports or an active lifestyle. Your physical therapist will help you prepare to return to sports as quickly and safely as possible. You can expect to continue working on building strength and stability in the affected knee. Your rehabilitation team will also evaluate whether or not you need to continue wearing a knee brace. 

Important aspects of recovery

Having patience and working closely with your health care team are two of the most important aspects of getting back on your feet after ACL repair surgery. You may be tempted to push your body during the rehabilitation process, but it’s important to take it slow and know that recovery is gradual. Doing too much too soon can actually slow the recovery process. Your rehabilitation team will let you know how much you can do and when.

Most patients are able to return to sport six months after ACL surgery. Keep in mind that this depends on a number of individual factors. It may take you more or less time to return to sport.

Rest assured that Dr. Hurt and the rest of your health care team will guide you through your recovery and can address any questions or concerns you may have. If you have an upcoming ACL surgery or other orthopedic needs and want to speak with us, call to schedule a visit with Dr. Hurt at our Austin or Marble Falls, Texas offices.

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