The journey to recovery following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery can be long and difficult. For athletes, the aim is to get back to their sport as quickly as possible. While most athletes who undergo ACL surgery make a comeback to some form of sporting activity, only a small majority manage to regain their pre-injury performance levels, and an even smaller percentage reach competitive levels again.
Both short-term and long-term complications can affect a patient’s recovery after an ACL repair. Current rehabilitation guidelines and practices have been evaluated using various systematic reviews.
Here we look at the new guidelines surrounding rehabilitation, and how you can achieve the best outcome after an ACL repair.
What are the new guidelines?
One of the main updates to the guidelines is the role of pre-operative rehabilitation. Several studies have explored the impact of this preoperative intervention on postoperative results compared to those who only undergo rehabilitation post-surgery.
Pre-operative rehabilitation, which lasts around three to six weeks, can lead to improved knee flexibility and extension during the early stages after surgery. It also has a moderate influence on strengthening the quadriceps muscles three months post-surgery. Additionally, findings show it may help patients return to their pre-injury level of activities sooner.
However, it’s important to note that preoperative rehabilitation does not appear to affect muscle shrinkage, hamstring strength, subjective function, or laxity.
What to expect after ACL repair surgery
Recovering from ACL repair surgery is a journey, and it’s important to know what to expect along the way. Immediately after the procedure, it’s typical to experience some level of pain and swelling in the knee area. Pain management and inflammation control will be a primary focus during this time, and your surgeon will provide appropriate medications and advice.
Physical therapy begins almost immediately and plays a pivotal role in your recovery. The initial focus will be on regaining range of motion, reducing swelling, and restoring basic walking ability. During the first few weeks, you may need to use crutches or a knee brace for support.
As your rehabilitation progresses, the emphasis will shift towards rebuilding strength and stability in the knee. This will typically involve a range of exercises and activities designed to challenge your knee and encourage it to heal.
The timeline for recovery varies significantly from person to person, depending on factors like age, overall health, and the extent of the injury. However, you can generally expect to return to normal activities within a few months, with a full return to sport typically taking six months to a year.
Tips for achieving the best outcome after ACL surgery
Achieving the best outcome from your ACL surgery depends heavily on your commitment to the recovery process. Here are a few tips to guide you on this journey:
- Follow Your Rehabilitation Plan: Your physical therapist will provide a tailored plan designed to restore function and strength in your knee. Following this plan is crucial for a successful recovery.
- Stay Active: Regular exercise, within the limits set by your therapist, can speed up recovery and maintain overall physical health.
- Eat Healthily: A balanced diet rich in protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can promote healing and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover.
- Rest and Recovery: While physical activity is essential, so is rest. Give your body the time it needs to heal, especially in the early stages of recovery.
- Stay Positive: Mental resilience can play a significant role in recovery. Try to maintain a positive attitude, even when progress feels slow.
Remember, everyone’s recovery process is unique. It’s crucial to listen to your body and communicate with your healthcare providers regularly. You can make a significant difference in your recovery process and return to the activities you love with patience, persistence, and the right approach.
Learn more about ACL surgery recovery by scheduling an appointment with Mr Jonathan Webb. He will help you understand what to expect from the procedure and when you will likely be able to return to sport.