For 94% of ACL injuries, surgery is necessary to repair the damaged ligament. In most cases, these are routine procedures for orthopedic surgeons. And the majority of patients can go home right after.
However, it also means that you’ll be responsible for following the treatment plan your surgeon and physical therapist create. Being diligent during the early phases of recovery will influence how well your knee heals and how comfortable you feel when it’s time to return to playing 6-12 months down the line. Here are four actionable tips to aid your recovery after ACL surgery.
1) Find an Amazing Physical Therapist
To start with, you need to find a physical therapist (PT) shortly after surgery. During your recovery, you’ll have to rely on your PT’s expertise and closely follow their instructions, including doing workouts at home each day.
Your surgeon can refer you to a reputable clinic, or you can look up a therapist with top-notch experience. You should check out a few different PTs before picking one because your relationship with your therapist will be integral to recovering properly. Make sure you feel comfortable talking to your PT about your concerns and that they make you feel comfortable but still push you to test your limits.
2) Take It Easy for Two Weeks and Use Cold Therapy
In the first two weeks after surgery, you’ll be dealing with considerable swelling and pain, which is normal after a surgery of this magnitude. During this phase, you must take it easy. You’ll still need to move around to regain range of motion and avoid blood clots, but don’t try to do new exercises aside from what your surgeon or PT has recommended.
One supplementary way to ease your pain and help reduce swelling is by applying ice or another form of cold therapy to your knee. Have plenty of ice or frozen gel packs on hand, and place them on your knee for about 20 minutes every two hours.
3) Increase Rehab Intensity Gently
Once you’ve weathered the immediate aftermath of your surgery, don’t go too fast too soon. Particularly if you’re an athlete, it may be tempting to increase the intensity of your exercises prematurely because you’re used to pushing yourself.
But if you put too much stress on your knee before your muscles and tendons have strengthened, you risk causing complications or a new injury. Instead, increase the intensity of your rehab as recommended by your physical therapist. In the first two to six weeks, stick to gentle stretches, using a stationary bike, and strengthening exercises like straight leg raises and bridges.
It’s tempting to start running as soon as possible, but you probably won’t be ready to do so until you’re at least three months into your recovery.
4) Take Care of Your Mental Health
When you’re recovering from surgery, you have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety or depression. If you’re used to being very active, sitting in bed and using crutches for weeks can be frustrating and deprive you of your usual outlets for stress relief. Also, it can be difficult to stay motivated during six to 12 months of rehab.
To maintain your mental health during the recovery period, you can use a few strategies. First, make sure you follow a healthy diet and go outside for walks once you’re strong enough. It’s also crucial to have a support system in place because you won’t be able to work, cook, or run errands during the early stages of rehabilitation. Surround yourself with friends, family, and even a pet who will be there to help you out and keep you company.
To manage stress, try breathing exercises or meditation to take your mind off of the injury. Dozens of studies have shown that these habits can help you deal with anxiety, stress, pain, and sleep issues.
Recovering from an ACL tear can be a long, stressful process. However, you should be able to return to your previous level of performance if you work with a qualified surgeon and PT, stick to your rehabilitation plan, know when to take it easy, and stay motivated.