No matter how much you have prepared for ACL surgery recovery, it is a process that requires patience. However, participating in your recovery by elevating your leg, applying cold and compression therapy, and doing certain exercises may help ensure that you recuperate safely and quickly.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations for pain medication, post-op wound care, and physical therapy. Although every patient is different, many people can do the following exercises at each stage of ACL surgery recovery:
1-2 Weeks After Surgery
Immediately after ACL surgery, you won’t be able to fully extend your knee. Although this is normal for a week or so, if you don’t actively work toward regaining full knee extension, your mobility and range of motion could stay limited for a longer period of time. The primary goal during the first couple weeks after surgery is to fully straighten, and possibly even hyperextend, the knee joint. Ideally, by the end of two weeks, both of your knees will have the same degree of extension.
Some of the exercises you can do to regain knee extension include:
- Sitting on the floor and doing hamstring and calf stretches with soft support behind the knee
- Putting a light weight on your thigh while lying on your back with your ankle propped up
- Sitting in a chair and putting your leg up on another chair while the knee slowly straightens
All of the stretching exercises during this phase of recovery are passive and do not require standing on the leg.
2-4 Weeks After Surgery
After regaining full extension, the focus usually shifts to increasing range of motion in the knee joint and building strength in the supporting muscles. Appropriate exercises include:
- Sitting with straight legs and slowly sliding your foot toward your body while keeping the heel on the floor
- Sitting on the floor with straight legs and contracting the quadriceps muscles
- Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and doing half-squats
- Standing with one foot a half-step forward and doing partial lunges
- Doing heel raises while standing
You may also be able to start low-impact exercises such as riding a stationary bicycle and swimming at this point in your recovery.
4-6 Weeks After Surgery
The range-of-motion and strength-building exercises continue for several more weeks, and you can gradually add the following:
- Core stabilization exercises to help improve balance
- More resistance with light weights or elastic bands
- Stair climbing or elliptical training
- Balancing on one leg
It’s important to slowly build up to longer training sessions and heavier weights during this time. Don’t assume that you can return to your previous level of activity just because the pain has started to subside and range of motion is close to normal.
6-12 Weeks After Surgery
Maintain the exercise program that was developed in the previous weeks to continue building strength, increasing flexibility, and improving range of motion. You may also be able to introduce lateral movements during these weeks if your physical therapist gives the green light. Take care not to overdo it because this can lead to reinjury and cause your recovery to last even longer.
12+ Weeks After Surgery
Most people can start light jogging at this point in the ACL surgery recovery process because the tissues have repaired enough to sustain the impact. However, you might not be quite ready to resume full athletic activity yet, so check with your healthcare provider before returning to your regular routine.
Always consult with your physical therapist to ensure that your recovery is on track and that you are doing appropriate activities that will support rehabilitation. To learn more about ACL surgery recovery and what you can do to accelerate the healing process, download The Game Ready Guide to Knee Surgery Recovery today.