The most frequently asked questions in an ACL consultation are often in regard to recovery, particularly for those that have incurred a sports injury and are keen to return to play as soon as possible.
Choice of knee surgeon is key to the success of your ACL reconstruction, but the surgery is only one aspect. Physical therapy during the rehabilitation process is essential for a successful and quick recovery.
The key stages of ACL reconstruction recovery
# 1: Reduction of pain and inflammation
The first aim immediately after your operation is to reduce any pain and swelling resulting from surgery. Everyone’s experience of pain differs, but typically the knee will feel sore for the first few days. This is easily controlled with pain relief. The knee will have a tendency to swell in the weeks and months after surgery, but frequent icing of the knee and elevation will help reduce inflammation.
Pain and swelling restricts our ability to walk normally and one of the chief aims of ACL reconstruction rehab in the early stages is to ensure the patient returns to normal movement as quickly as possible.
# 2: Restoration of full knee extension
Normal range of movement of the knee joint encompasses full extension with a completely straight knee and flexion, which is a fully bent knee joint. After an ACL reconstruction, the pain and swelling is often alleviated by keeping the knee bent slightly. This can result in tightening of the tissues so restoring full knee extension is of prime importance and range of motion and stretching exercises are recommended.
A 2012 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that long-term prevalence of osteoarthritis after ACL reconstruction was lower in patients who achieved and maintained normal range of motion in the knee joint.
# 3: Restoration of normal gait
After ACL reconstruction, the patient will often feel reluctant to bear their full weight on the treated knee, but this is crucial for restoring a normal gait. Exercises that strengthen the supporting muscles of the knee, particularly the quadriceps, are advised.
# 4: Increase in knee flexion
This is typically less of an issue after ACL reconstruction, but an increase in knee flexion should be balanced with knee extension exercises. Stretching and functional motion exercises are recommended.
# 5: Proprioception
This is your body’s sense of the position of your joints as they are in motion and is required for balance and stabilisation and therefore is essential for preventing injury. Balance training can help to improve knee proprioception when recovering from reconstructive surgery.
# 6: Preparing for a return to sport
Strength, motion and control of the knee in both legs will all be taken into consideration when evaluating your readiness to return to sport. The athlete should also be emotionally and psychologically ready. Knee surgeon Mr Jonathan Webb will work with your physical therapist, guiding you through every stage of your recovery after ACL reconstruction.
To arrange a consultation at either his Bristol or London knee clinics, call 08450 60 44 99.