With ACL reconstruction, what you do before surgery can significantly speed your recovery. Speak with your physical therapist before surgery, and ideally participate in therapy to regain some motion. PT can also bolster your strength, control swelling, and refine your neuromuscular control. This also starts building rapport with your PT \which means the largest part of your recovery will be easier.
Pain and discomfort are normal post-surgery, and can be treated with rest, ice, and pain medications. Even if you feel better than expected, be cautious: talk to your surgeon in case there are safety precautions or non-prescription alternatives. Opioids should be disposed of at a police station, as they are highly addictive and dangerous drugs and responsible for the growing opioid epidemic.
After a few days, you should be able to take a shower and let water run over the incision. Baths, Jacuzzis and swimming pools should be avoided until the stitches or staples are removed.
Outpatient physical therapy is usually started within a few days of surgery. When you arrive to PT, your therapist will remove your surgical dressings if they are still on. Swelling is our first priority, and yes, you have to wear the ugly white hose 24/7 if your surgeon gave them to you. The Second goal is full knee extension, whether you’re in a brace or wearing crutches. Typically, your PT weans you off fairly quickly once muscle control is established.
As your strength and motion improve, your therapist will carefully ramp up intensity. Progression back to your sport or activity level requires reaching certain milestones. These milestones are based on safety, not on time. Despite what you may think, you aren’t Adrian Peterson, and you don’t have a full-time medical team to nurture you back to health in four months! He’s also a freak of nature, so there’s that.
Occasional flare-ups will occur once you’re back in your sport, but remember that you are not going it alone. Your PT is available for any questions, and their experience lends them valuable insight into the ups and downs of ACL injuries.
Speaking of sports, athletes are recommended to seek out a PT who is a sports specialist, or SCS. They have expertise in the unique challenges – and requirements – of athletes who have to perform exceptionally. Most athletes require a minimum of 6-10 months of recovery. Returning too soon can lead to re-tear or more commonly tearing of the non-surgical side.
Rehab is tough, and takes a lot of hard work…but any athlete knows how that works. Ideally, after we work with you, you’ll get back in the game better than ever!