Sunday, 19 August 2012

ACL Reconstruction: Recovery Time

I thought I might for once attempt to write a post that people who are heading into an ACL reconstruction might find useful. I'm a bit over 9 weeks post surgery now and I can't even remember life pre-surgery! The swelling has dramatically decreased, the wound is healed, and I'm currently focussed on regaining strength in my hamstring. Here is a breakdown of my recovery time.
Left knee 9 weeks after ACL reconstruction
and meniscus repair. 

Weight bearing: The morning after the surgery my nurse made me attempt to walk to the toilet clutching her shoulder. Not only did it hurt, but I nearly killed her because my leg was still just a numb uncontrollable blob and I was really busting! Nevertheless I was relieved to avoid the potty they pressured me to use the night before. Making a grown woman do that is just plain cruel! Especially when her friend, in the bed adjacent to her, gets free wheelchair rides to the big girl toilet! Anyway the point is you can weight bear as tolerated fairly soon after surgery, but that’s just my opinion; don’t bear too much weight on it.

Showering: You can shower from day one, but you can't get your dressings wet. Just sit on a chair in the shower and cover your leg with glad wrap or a plastic bag; I’d be “glad” to show you how. I got my dressings off at 2 weeks.

Walking: I could hobble adequately at 2 weeks, but only trusted myself for short distances around the house and looked absolutely ridiculous (smash all mirrors in your house). It got exponentially easier and I could walk fairly confidently by 3 weeks. It helped that my friend Bianca had undergone the surgery too, because it became a competition to see who could walk first. While this helped my recovery I don't advise purposely tearing your friends ACL.

Work: I went to work at my office job 2 weeks after my surgery. If I'm really honest though, by one week post surgery, I was skipping work just simply because I could get away with it, and I really wanted to sleep in and cook eggs with cheese for breakfast every morning (I really love eggs, despite feeling like they're basically bird period, and I'm actually in a relationship with cheese). I still can't go back into my field based position at work that involves standing all day, uneven terrain and heavy lifting.

Brace: I got my brace off at six weeks. Up until this point I wore it every second of my life, including while sleeping. As a matter of fact it was most critical while sleeping; because it’s easy to accidently contort your body into strange positions during the night (I filmed myself once and convinced myself I was possessed). My friend Bianca had her ACL reconstructed and no meniscus repair and she didn't wear a brace at all.

Bending: I had a meniscus repair and wore a knee brace that restricted the bend of my knee to 60° for the first 6 weeks. Within the week after I got my brace removed I had full range of motion back in my knee, including 5° or so of hyperextension. This is important. Get good range of motion as quickly as you can and make sure you can fully extend your leg (I hope you're reading this Bianca!!) It helped me a lot to lie in bed with a good book and a pillow under my ankle. 

Stationary bike: I was riding stationary bike at 6 weeks, once my brace was taken off. This particular phase of my recovery really annoys me, I just feel like I'm going nowhere. Riding an actual bike still makes me nervous because that is how my friend Bianca tore her ACL in the first place. 

Jogging: I'm still not at the stage where I'm allowed to jog...not that I did it all that much before. I always wanted to exercise, but it just didn't work out. I almost wish I was a pig (the animal, I'm debatably a bit piggish in a descriptive way now), so that when I say “I can’t run, I have a problem with my hamstring”, it's a funny (?) pun.

Carrying hot coffee to your room: Do not try this when on crutches, or even in the early stages of walking when you're limping like a zombie with one leg broken and dragging behind it. Just trust me.

House chores: You'll never be able to do them again, so make sure you train up your house mates... I'm actually a bit of a neat freak though, and love cleaning my room. I had a minor private hissy fit while cleaning just yesterday as a result of how much the vacuum sucked, or... how much it didn't suck. Luckily somebody unblocked it and I can go about my obsessive room perfection as usual.

Me on my 6 week spirit raising trip. 
Drinking: You obviously shouldn't mix strong painkillers with alcohol, which means you can't drink alcohol in the period right after your surgery. The real challenge is after 6 weeks when your knee is beginning to feel stronger again, because the graft itself is actually losing strength while it establishes a blood supply, and you are starting to get thirsty.  This means that if you're sensible you have to avoid the “pint of no return”, where you stop caring about your knee. I understand that you're spirits may get a bit down sometimes, and by that I mean vodka, tequila and rum, but pull through! Having said that... I took a trip to celebrate getting my brace off at 6 weeks and let’s just say it helped raise my spirits.

P.S Bianca just walked into my room and glanced at the draft of this post and said “that looks a bit serious, not funny at all!” So I thought I'd include something I know she finds quite funny: 

My physio diagram for squats. Nobody has walked into
my room without laughing at it. 


  1. Replies
    1. I know! I fail to understand why the second outline of a man is needed behind the first!

  2. Nice description of your progress and funny LOL

  3. Did you also get your meniscus repaired? Could you really walk by the 3rd week? because my doctor is forcing me to be on crutches and brace for 6 weeks..

  4. Yeah, I could walk by the 3rd week, but I started off looking fairly ridiculous when I tried. I wore my knee brace for 6 weeks (this is to keep the leg extended), but I was allowed to "bear weight as tolerated" very soon after the surgery and I got rid of my crutches as soon as I could. As a matter of fact the morning after my surgery the nurse got me to try and walk to the toilet (I failed, but was thankful I didn't have to use the little potty again....)