ACL Reconstruction Rehabilitation

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL is one of the ligaments that hold the knee together. If it gets stretched, torn or otherwise damaged the knee joint loses its integrity and even something as simple as walking becomes virtually impossible. Athletes are commonly struck down with ACL injuries although non-athletes suffer their fair share of ACL injuries too. It’s possible that if damage to the ACL was minimal that it may heal on its own over time with the help of rest and physical therapy. However, if the ligament is actually torn you’ll need to undergo surgery and ACL reconstruction rehabilitation.

The Operation

During ACL reconstructive surgery the doctor will typically remove the torn ligament and replace it completely using new tissue, typically harvested from the patellar ligament or the quadriceps tendon. The object of the surgery is to return stability to the knee so that you can, after rehab, regain full range of motion in the joint. This type of surgery is typically done arthroscopically which means tiny surgical instruments are inserted through incisions along with a camera and the surgeon performs the procedure remotely while watching a video screen.

How it Works

During the procedure the surgeon replaces the damaged tendon with the donor tissue. He drills holes in the bone both above and below the knee. The new ligament is then fastened into these holes and integrity is thus restored to the joint.

Tempering Expectations

Don’t expect rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction surgery to be over in a week or two. Recovery from ACL surgery can be a lengthy process, but when the surgery is performed by talented surgeons and you adhere to your prescribed rehab program full recovery is not only possible but likely. But what does that rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction process look like?

ACL Reconstruction Rehabilitation

Although in most cases patients can return home the same day they have ACL reconstructive surgery the recovery process itself is not quick. In fact, it could be 6 months from the time you undergo the procedure until rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction and functional testing is complete. Even more in some cases. Athletes will typically lose an entire year to the injury. The good news however is that, at the end of the recovery process, most individuals will have normal function returned to the knee.

The Recovery Process Timeline

Following ACL surgery you will need to take things easy and not attempt to rush the rehabilitation process. In most cases the timeline for recovery will be something akin to this:

●        1 to 2 weeks following surgery – In the first 2 weeks after surgery the knee joint will be at its most vulnerable. This is thus the most crucial period of recovery. You’ll experience pain, swelling and perhaps a build-up of fluid in the knee. Nonetheless, you’ll be given some simple rehabilitative exercises to begin performing during this period. The most important thing is to avoid putting weight on the joint so crutches are a must.

●        2 to 4 weeks following surgery – Once the bulk of the swelling, fluid build-up and pain have subsided you’ll begin to put weight on the joint. Any activities will still be greatly limited however since the tissue inside the joint will still be healing at this point. It’s possible that toward the end of this period you may be able to resume driving (as long as you don’t have a standard transmission). You’ll still be working closely with your physical therapist to restore range of motion as well.

●        1 to 3 months following surgery – By now your rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction surgery is progressing nicely and the knee is continuing to grow stronger by the day. At the 6 to 8 week point you’ll be allowed to swim, ride a stationary bike and perhaps spend some time on the rowing machine. Riding a real bicycle will be discouraged only because if you fall you could cause a major setback to your recovery. By the end of this period you should be walking more or less normally and younger, stronger patients may be able to consider some light jogging.

●        3 to 6 months after surgery – During this period athletes will begin discussing a return to their chosen sport, although at a reduced level of intensity. Non-athletes and athletes alike will continue to work with their physical therapist to ensure the restoration of normal, pre-injury motion and strength in the knee joint. A brace will likely be recommended during this period just to ensure no damage comes to the joint as you ramp up your physical activities.

●        6 months to 1 year – After six months of rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction, if everything has gone according to plan, athletes can begin serious training again in preparation for a return to their sport. Some will be advised to wear a brace for a year or more just to be sure. Non-athletes should by this time have regained full, pre-injury motion and strength and resumed their normal, pre-injury lives.

Dealing with Setbacks

With any such surgical procedure setbacks are always a possibility. You’ll need to keep your eyes open for the signs that something is wrong and alert your physical therapist to the problem before it turns into a major issue. Some signs that healing is not going as planned with your physiotherapy rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction include:

●        A discharge from the incision

●        Fever of more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit

●        Swelling of the calf

●        Blood seeping through bandages

●        Pain that does not respond to medication

If you experience any of these symptoms don’t waste any time alerting your physical therapist or doctor and do as they instruct you to do.

The Bottom Line

ACL reconstruction rehabilitation is a lengthy process but when you work closely with your support team and heed the advice of your doctor the prognosis is typically excellent. If you have any questions about ACL reconstructive surgery contact Orthopaedic Riga. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and tell you more about the Orthopaedic Riga clinic and our outstanding success rates with ACL surgery.