When you tear your ACL and must undergo ACL reconstruction surgery, you’ll want to know the steps needed to take to make a full recovery ahead of time. On the same day that you have ACL reconstruction surgery, you will be given a list of exercises that you will begin immediately in the recovery room. You will need to have crutches when you stand up, and weight bearing capability of the knee with be gradually increased with time.
The more damage that was done to your knee, the longer your recovery period will be. The main focus following surgery is decreasing the swelling in your knee and regaining the full extension of the knee. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) is a good rule of thumb for recovery from any knee condition and will help the knee to heal faster.
ACL Rehabilitation Phases
Each surgeon will have different methods in their recommendations for knee rehabilitation and the general structure and goals of rehabilitation. The goal of rehabilitation is for the patient to have a normal level of functioning with the newly-constructed knee. Rehabilitation is broken down into phases, and there are specific goals of each phase.
Phase I – Two weeks following surgery
- Ice and elevation to control inflammation
- Regaining range of motion (ROM) of the knee
- Controlling the quadriceps
- “Learning” to walk normally without crutches
- Mobilizing the kneecap
Phase II – Two to six weeks following surgery
- Maximize / normalize ROM to match normal knee
- Isometric (minimal resistance with movement) strengthening
- Continued protection of the graft to allow healing
- Training begins to improve endurance
- Core strength
Phase III – Six weeks to three to four months following surgery
- Increase functional movement of knee and leg muscles
- Begin jogging and bicycling and progress as tolerated on flat land only
- Continued core strength
- Progressive resistance and controlled plyometric exercises
Phase IV – Four to six months after surgery
- Increase strength training and plyometric training
- Continue core strength
- Advanced lifting exercises can be pursued
- The phase is customized based on the patient, their sport, and athletic needs
Phase V – Return to full activity, usually at six to nine months
- Pursue goal of 90% strength of surgical leg (compared to normal leg)
- No pain should be present and full range of motion should be returned
- Sport specific training to prepare for unrestricted return
- Possible use of ACL brace to protect reconstructed knee
Please click here to learn more about rehabilitation from ACL surgery.
Follow Up Visits
Within the weeks and months following ACL reconstruction surgery, patients will need to visit Dr. Millstein several times for follow up visits. The rehabilitation process is important, but following up with a physician is important to ensure proper healing of the ACL and knee.
During post op appointments, Dr. Millstein will make important measurements and examine the strength of the knee. As a patient, you’ll want to be sure that the surgery was successful and a return to physical activity is possible without re-injury. Dr. Millstein is vital in the rehabilitation process as he will ensure that you make a full recovery.
Next, learn more about bracing and rehabilitation.