ACL surgery recovery time may take six months or longer. The exact amount of time will depend on the extent of the injury, the type of surgery, your health before the procedure, and the steps you take to promote healing. Recovery may also be delayed by certain activities or by choosing not to actively participate in the rehabilitation process.
Whether you’re an athlete who wants to get back to your rigorous training schedule or someone who needs to stay mobile, you probably want to bounce back as quickly as possible. If you want to try return to your normal activity levels faster, watch out for these four things that may delay ACL surgery recovery.
4 Factors that Affect ACL Surgery Recovery Time
1. Avoiding Infection
An infection can set back the healing process, because your body will be focused on fighting off the infection, rather than healing your damaged ACL. The incision site will be healing for the first couple weeks after ACL surgery, so it’s important to keep it clean and dry. It’s also possible for an infection to develop inside the knee at the graft site.
The Solution: Follow your doctor’s instructions for changing the dressing and maintaining a clean incision site. Although an internal infection is not common, you can avoid it by taking the full course of antibiotics prescribed at the time of surgery.
2. Preventing Blood Clots
Another possible setback that affects ACL surgery recovery time is the occurrence of blood clots. You can help prevent this type of complication by being proactive. If you have enough time before ACL surgery, try to drop extra weight and stop smoking because those two factors both increase the risk of blood clots.
The Solution: After surgery, it’s important to keep the blood flowing in your leg. Your doctor, and/or physical therapist, will show you exercises that will help, and although they might be painful, it’s important to do them at the recommended frequency. Compression therapy may also help you avoid this potential complication.
3. Controlling Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or trauma -- and a surgical procedure falls into the trauma category. In fact, a certain amount of inflammation is necessary to protect the surrounding tissues from further injury. However, when inflammation after surgery goes unchecked, it may actually delay the recovery process. Excessive inflammation may also reduce your range of motion and cause more pain and discomfort.
The Solution: Apply cold and compression, ideally with a cryotherapy system, after surgery and throughout the recovery process to help reduce swelling and pump away excess fluids.
4. Participating in Physical Therapy
There is no doubt that physical therapy after ACL surgery isn’t always fun, and at times it can be painful. However, avoiding physical therapy is a sure way to increase your ACL surgery recovery time. Without it, you may not regain full range of motion and may lose strength in the muscles surrounding the knee joint, which might eventually lead to another injury and prevent you from returning to your previous level of activity.
The Solution: Work closely with your physical therapist to determine the recovery program that will work best for you. Consider using a physical therapy app to help you stay motivated and to ensure that you complete the entire program.
While you can’t eliminate the ACL surgery recovery process, you can take steps to try to avoid prolonging it. Always follow your doctor’s instructions, and if you’re concerned that something isn’t healing properly, get it checked out. Recovering from any type of surgical procedure takes time and patience, but by actively participating in the activities that promote healing and avoiding those that can cause delays, you’ll be back on your feet as quickly as possible.