Dr. Hacker shares what women need to know about the recovery from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery.
Ladies, I’d like to talk with you about things you should be aware of after your ACL surgery. The pain you are going to experience after an ACL surgery is different for everyone. Some people have very little pain, and some people have a little bit more. It’s always hard to know which person you are going to be, but we as physicians are aware of this and do everything we can to make you as comfortable as possible with the appropriate medications and get you through this as quickly as possible.
After the surgery, some people may have a burning sensation in their knee; some people may feel achy pain; an occasional twinge of stabbing pain. This is all very normal, and all this typically resolves within the first week or two after these kind of surgeries.
Sometimes one experiences bruising further down the leg after these surgeries; pain can be felt down further away from the incisions. This isn’t usually something to be alarmed of, but is unfortunately a side effect of the surgeries. If you do experience bruising after the surgery, you should definitely let your physician know.
Usually after an ACL surgery, it’s reasonable to take a shower right away as long as you keep your area of the incisions completely covered and dry. Your physician will let you know as time goes on when it’s safer to soak in a tub or be in a swimming pool or a hot tub after wounds have completely healed.
The best way to keep your wound dry while in the shower is keeping it covered with something such as plastic wrap or Saran™ Wrap and then tape around the top. There are commercially available covers which you can put over your leg to keep the entire leg completely dry as well.
I am a huge fan of icing the knee after ACL surgeries. I send my patients home with specialized wraps to keep the knee iced as much as possible. Typically, we have you ice the knee for periods of 20 to 30 minutes at a time and do this five to six times a day.
Your activity after this surgery will be guided by your physician. Usually you will be using crutches for a period of time initially, and then as time goes on, you will find yourself wanting to become more and more active. Most physicians will allow this and will pace you as you try to increase your level of activity with time.
My patients always ask me when they come back to see me, “Doc, when can I run? When can I go back and play football? When can I play beach volleyball?” That’s probably the most important question is when is this graft really ready to see those stresses and strains of normal everyday life.
Now the answer of course is that that sometimes is different depending on what you want to do, but typically for me, someone using tissue from their own body, I’d let go back to doing some light running at four to five months out, and most people are able to go back and play more aggressive sporting activity such as tennis, volleyball--cutting and pivoting activities that may have torn the graft in the first place--that usually is closer to seven to eight months out following the surgery.
I hope this overview on what you can expect after an ACL surgery is helpful to you and will help guide you through the process.
About Dr. Hacker, M.D., M.S.:
Dr. Hacker specializes in sports medicine, both on and off the field. Dr. Hacker completed extensive training in bioengineering at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and was given a Regent's Fellowship as well as a National Science Foundation Honorable Mention for his work. He completed a Master's Thesis in Engineering on the properties of meniscal tissue in addition to multiple projects including pioneering research in ACL healing and repair. He then served as director of the Coutts Institute in San Diego, a leading center for Orthopaedic research. Dr. Hacker completed an orthopedic research fellowship studying the ability to grow and transplant cartilage.