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After anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, a patient should expect to have limited mobility for the first several weeks. Within six to 12 months, most patients are able to return to full activity, including sports, without any restrictions. The most important factor affecting the degree of ACL surgery recovery is commitment to rigorous physical therapy. For the first several days, patients should strive to regain as much range of motion as the doctor suggests by performing all exercises as recommended. This crucial period helps set the stage for the rest of the ACL surgery recovery process.
For the first 12 hours, the patient may not feel much pain because pain medication given after the ACL surgery will still be in the patient’s system. It’s important to get pain medication prescriptions filled as soon as possible because they will help the patient feel more comfortable, allowing physical therapy session to begin as soon as possible. Exercises typically begin very soon after surgery and must be performed frequently during waking hours. Most patients will be able to return to work within a few days or weeks of surgery while using crutches to walk, provided the job does not involve strenuous activity. The patient must continue to take frequent breaks to perform physical therapy exercises during the workday as well.
Throughout the early period of the ACL surgery recovery period, the patient will be concentrating on performing such exercises as knee extensions, leg raises, or using a passive motion device to work the knee. When the patient is not exercising the knee, the knee usually will be supported in a stabilizing brace. Applying ice and elevating the leg can help reduce swelling. The patient will also be caring for the surgical incision wounds to ensure they heal properly.
By the time two weeks have passed, the patient will typically be able to bend the knee 90 degrees, fully extend the knee, and will still be performing exercises many times each day. Most doctors encourage certain types of lower-impact physical activity, such as bicycling and swimming throughout the ACL surgery recovery period. Restrictions on high-impact activities typically continue for six to 12 months. Doctors will release a patient to full activity when full control of the quadriceps is achieved, balance is regained and pain and swelling have completely subsided.
While the ACL surgery recovery process may be slow and, at times, painful, most patients regain full mobility. Many can return to the sports they enjoyed before surgery between six and nine months after surgery. ACL surgery has a very high success rate — around 90% of patients report satisfaction with surgery results.
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