ACL SURGERY RECOVERY
One of the most common yet most troublesome injuries in sports is an ACL injury (or Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury). An ACL injury is a tear in one of the knee ligaments that joins the upper leg bone (femur) with the lower leg bone (tibia) which keeps the knee stable. ACL tears in sports can happen for a number of reasons including changing direction too rapidly, stopping suddenly, a faulty landing from a jump or colliding with another athlete. This usually (and unfortunately) results in a season-ending injury for most athletes.
Although some people are able to recover from an ACL tear without surgery with proper care from a Physical Therapist, most athletes opt for ACL surgery, which can get them back on their feet faster. Most orthopedic surgeons opt for arthroscopic surgery as opposed to open surgery because it uses smaller incisions and poses less risk to the patient. Arthroscopic surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis, which means you do not need to spend the night in a hospital unless otherwise recommended by the surgeon.
ACL surgery recovery timelines vary from patient to patient, however it usually takes between 6 and 9 months to fully recover. While rehabilitating from ACL surgery, patients can use several methods to help speed their recovery process and get them back in the game sooner.
If you are planning for ACL surgery or have recently had surgery, it is important that you first consult your Physical Therapist who will guide you through the ACL surgery recovery process. He or she will give you range of motion routines and strengthening exercises at the right times in your rehabilitation.
It is very important to control pain and swelling immediately after surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon will probably recommend cold therapy immediately following surgery. Cold therapy helps reduce pain and swelling, which plays a major role in ACL surgery recovery. Once cleared by your doctor to do so, it is highly effective to add compression therapy to your cold therapy, which helps reduce swelling.
Cold and compression are key ingredients of R.I.C.E. therapy – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Using a cryotherapy device with active or intermittent compression such as PowerPlay during ACL surgery recovery can help ease pain and reduce inflammation. Intermittent compression works by pumping blood and oxygen up and out of the injury site. In addition to your cold compression therapy, resting and keeping your leg elevated will also aid in this process.
Your Physical Therapist will tell you when it is safe to start gentle exercise. He or she will recommend certain strengthening exercises to incorporate into your daily routine. You can expect a variety of range of motion exercises to get your mobility back to what it was prior to your ACL injury. Your PT will also recommend a series of stretches to continue at home. The types of recommended exercises will increase in activity level as time goes on, however you must be careful to not do too much too soon.
Eventually you will be able to ease into more intense exercises when your physician and PT clear you to do so. Swimming and cycling, for example, are great ways to increase your stamina, coordination and balance gradually, while being careful to not aggravate your knee or re-injure yourself. You should no longer feel pain and the circumference of your injured knee should match the circumference of your non-injured knee. Once you have been cleared to return to your sport, continuing your cold and compression therapy is beneficial in keeping swelling down and maintaining your performance.