Whether you need ACL surgery as the result of a sports injury or because of another type of accident, the recovery timeline is similar for most people. A full recovery, including the return to your pre-injury condition, with full range of motion and stability in the knee joint, usually takes six months.1 However, it’s important to understand that recovery timelines may vary.The path to recovery involves several stages, each with recommended activities for helping you heal as quickly as possible and return to normal activity. The more closely you follow your doctor's instructions, the more likely you are to aid the recovery process.

The Path to ACL Surgery Recovery

Although full recovery typically takes several months, many people may return to low-impact activities within a month or two after ACL surgery.2

1. Recovery starts immediately: 

Your body starts healing the day of your surgery, and you can help it by actively participating in your recovery. You will learn strengthening and stretching exercises that may help you regain range of motion in the knee joint and ensure that you return to normal activity as quickly as possible. You may help the healing process in the first few days after ACL surgery with cold and compression therapy.2,3 Cryotherapy helps reduce pain, and swelling (within the first few days),while simultaneous compression may enhance the benefits of cold therapy and helps bring freshly oxygenated blood and vital nutrients to the damaged tissues. Also important for the removal of swelling is elevating the injury above the level of the heart.

You may need crutches for about two weeks following surgery, and you may wear a brace for a month or longer after the crutches are gone. You’ll also need physical therapy in the first few weeks, but can hope to return to light activity—such as walking—within a month or two.5

2. Most healing happens within weeks: 

As your ACL surgery recovery progresses, you will learn more exercises and increase the intensity of your physical therapy. You can continue cold and compression therapy through this phase, especially if you continue to experience swelling.5

3. Full recovery takes time and patience: 

The months after the initial phase of ACL surgery recovery can be challenging, especially for athletes. Although the pain and swelling may go away relatively quickly, you must limit your activity until the tissues in your knee have completely healed. Adding too much activity or increasing the intensity too much may lead to reinjury or unnecessarily prolong the recovery process. Work with your physical therapist to find the right balance of activity and rest in the months after ACL surgery. The long-term rehabilitation process typically takes 2-9 months, and most athletes may not return to their sport for at least six months.3,4

Although ACL surgery recovery can be challenging, most people make a full recovery and return to normal activity, especially if they remain committed to physical therapy and diligently follow their healthcare provider’s instructions. 

If you are interested in adding cold and compression therapy to your ACL surgery recovery, speak with your doctor.



  1. Rehab timeline expectations. Emory Healthcare. https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/centers-programs/acl-program/recovery/rehab-timeline.html. Accessed July 10, 2019.
  2. ACL surgery recovery timeline. UPMC HealthBeat. https://share.upmc.com/2015/04/recovery-time-for-acl-reconstruction-surgery/. Published April 16, 2015.
  3. Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: what to expect at home. MyHealthAlberta.ca. https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=ug3484. Published September 20, 2018.
  4. Futterman B, Goldstein L, Kibrik P. Pain management after ACL surgery. Practical Pain Management. https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/treatments/pain-management-after-acl-surgery. Published May 8, 2014.
  5. ACL surgery recovery timeline. UPMC HealthBeat. https://share.upmc.com/2015/04/recovery-time-for-acl-reconstruction-surgery/. Published April 16, 2015.