Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an important part of how your knee remains stable when you move. Your knee joint provides an amazing range of motion, and makes it possible for you to run, jump, walk, and even sit comfortably.
We see many patients with ACL injuries at Orthocenter. In some cases, our highly trained experts determine surgical intervention is the best way for you to regain full use of your knee.
Surgery can be a daunting prospect, but with preparation and a thorough understanding of what to expect, you’re likely to worry less.
The function of your ACL
The ACL is one of a group of ligaments that help hold the bones of your knee joint in place. It connects the bone in your thigh to the bone in your shin. It’s particularly important when you change directions suddenly.
Many ACL injuries happen during sports. Slowing down suddenly and changing directions puts an enormous amount of stress on your ACL, as does pivoting when your foot is planted.
Types of ACL injuries
What you should expect during recovery depends to a large extent on the type of injury you’ve sustained. Your ACL could be stretched but not torn, or it could be partially torn. It may also be completely torn, and other tissues may have been injured as well.
In some cases, your doctor may be able to perform a minimally invasive type of surgery through several very small incisions. Your recovery is likely to be much faster.
In more severe cases, you may need to have your ACL replaced with a donor tendon, or your doctor may need to repair other structures in your joint. You may need a more traditional type of surgery that requires a longer recovery time in more complex injuries.
The stages of recovery
It may help if you think of your recovery in stages:
Stage 1: The first two weeks after surgery
This is, for many people, the most challenging stage. You’re more likely to have more intense pain during the first few days. We make sure you have appropriate pain medication, and that you know other techniques like icing, to manage this stage.
You also begin rehabilitation immediately following surgery, and continue it throughout the first stage. It’s important to rebuild strength in your knee.
Further, you’re given specific instructions on keeping your incision clean and dry, and on how to change your dressing. You likely need to remain off work during this stage of recovery, though that depends somewhat on your job.
Stage 2: Weeks three and four
At this point, you shouldn’t need pain medication anymore, and your stitches should be gone. You may need to wear a specially fitted knee brace.
You’re likely to begin more intense physical therapy during this stage as well. Your therapist teaches you exercises and stretches to help you regain your full range of motion and strength in your knee.
Depending on your job, you can likely return to work during stage 2. However, if your job is physically demanding, you may need to wait substantially longer.
Stage 3: One to six months following surgery
During this stage, your doctor and physical therapist continue working with you to reach your goals. At some point in stage 3, you’re cleared to return to your normal activities, but it’s important that you wait until your doctor says it’s OK. Returning to sports too early puts you at risk for being injured again.
As always, the experts at Orthocenter want to provide you with personalized guidance, based on your circumstances. Your injury, age, activity level, overall health, goals, and much more inform your doctor’s advice for you.
If you have questions about what to expect, we encourage you to call or request an appointment on our website at Orthocenter, with offices in Red Bank, Morganville, and Holmdel, New Jersey. We’re always happy to discuss your situation and answer your questions.