An ACL injury could mean serious damage to one of the most important ligaments in your knee, so it’s important to seek treatment from a medical professional and allow enough time for a full recovery before returning to activity. ACL sprains and tears result in pain and swelling, so it is often easy to determine that you have incurred an injury. However, you might not know the extent of the injury until you receive a diagnosis from a professional.
The length of the recovery period depends on the extent of the injury and the desired outcomes. In the case of a sprain, a period of rest, physical therapy, and cold and compression therapy might allow you to return to activity in a matter of weeks. In the case of a partial or full tear, the ACL recovery timeline is likely longer and depends on whether or not you decide to have surgery. ACL surgery is not always required after a tear, but if you want to return to athletic activity, or if you have symptoms that are not manageable, surgical reconstruction might be recommended.
ACL Recovery Takes Time
If you have a minor sprain, the ACL recovery timeline can range from two to four weeks. During that time, your doctor will likely recommend:
- Cold and compression therapy to help reduce pain and swelling
- Using a knee brace to stabilize the knee joint
- Using crutches to keep weight off the knee
- Participating in physical therapy to maintain range of motion and strengthen the leg muscles that surround the knee joint
If you experience a partial or full ACL tear, the only way it will properly heal is with surgery because the ligament is unable to repair itself. The ACL recovery timeline after surgery can take four to 12 months and typically includes:
- Cold and compression therapy immediately after surgery to reduce pain and swelling
- Continued use of cold and compression therapy for as many weeks as inflammation continues
- A 10-12 week intensive physical therapy program that initially focuses on regaining range of motion, followed by strength training
- Ongoing physical therapy to prepare the joint for new types of motion
- Use of a knee brace to stabilize the joint as it continues to recover
You Have the Power to Accelerate the ACL Recovery Timeline
Although a certain amount of time is required for the healing process after an ACL injury or surgery, there are steps you can take to return to activity more quickly. Of course, you should always work closely with your doctor to determine when it is safe to increase activity levels, but the more pro-active you are, the faster you will heal.
In addition to adhering to the recommendations from your doctor or physical therapist, one of the most important steps you can take to accelerate the ACL recovery timeline is to use cold and compression therapy. Cold therapy will not only reduce the pain and discomfort you feel after an injury, but it will also allow damaged tissues to repair more quickly. The addition of compression enhances the many benefits of cold therapy and contributes to the removal of edema and swelling reduction.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about renting a unit to use at home so you can get the benefits of cold and compression therapy multiple times a day throughout the ACL recovery timeline.