ACL Repair – Timeline of My Recovery (With Pictures)

acl repair surgery in hospital

This post is part of a series. You may want to start here.

If your want the quick links, here’s the full series:

In 2016 I had ACL surgery. It seemed like a no-brainer since I’m a travel writer and was (relatively) young when I ruptured my ACL, MCL and meniscus in one fell swoop – I say swoop, I mean dancing under a limbo bar. Hey, it was pretty low and I was one of only two remaining contestants in line for a bottle of rum until I heard that heartbreaking ‘pop’. 

I didn’t think that I’d still be updating this post several years after the original surgery. 

Why am I still updating it? Because I’ve come to realise that my ACL recovery is an ongoing work in progress. The doctor advised me that my knee would never been 100%. And since I’m a perfectionist, I am always striving to make my knee stronger. 

In this post I’ll give you full details of my ACL recovery timeline and experience.

I’ve updated this post over time up. Keep in mind that I was 40 years old when I had surgery and I was relatively fit but not the fittest I’ve been in my life (I waited nearly a year from my surgery, which didn’t help). We also all have different levels of pain tolerance and recovery speeds but this is how I found things.

Warning: incision photos in this post. I have included some pictures of my knee after the surgery, including a few days after I had my ACL surgery. Some of them are pretty gruesome. The worst one is under the ‘after a few days’ section. 

Pre-surgery and even post-surgery I’ve done a lot of research on what ACL recovery looks like and apart from a bunch of medical websites that have vastly varying timescales, I didn’t find anything close to a real description. So, I thought I’d share my recovery experience. Of course, everyone is going to be different: I’m 5ft tall so that’s providing some challenges (step height and sitting in chairs); I’m not good with pain; I’m terrified of falling over; but I am diligent about doing my exercises and have the luxury of working from home to commit time to doing them.

I was at the end of week 3 of recovery from ACL repair surgery when I wrote the first section. I have then kept it updated over the years in case you’re still having niggles down the line. Here’s my experience.

Getting ACL Surgery – In hospital

  • placed on a machine to get 45 degree range of motion operating
  • tested on crutches
  • told I can weight bear on both legs if using crutches
  • given ‘stair training’ so I can use the stairs with crutches
  • given 3 exercises to do at home: i) heel slides (lying down, sliding my heel until my knee was bent); ii) straight leg raises (also from lying or sitting down), contraction of the quadracep (flexing the muscle above my knee))
  • told RICE – rest, ice, compression, elevation (but without the compression)
  • bandage and surgical dressings applied

You can read about my surgery experience here – there were a few surprises. 

First 24 hours after ACL repair

  • Dressing & incisions: remove bandage day after surgery and change dressing (luckily not much full-on blood but some weeping)
  • Crutches: on both crutches to get around – makes carrying things a problem, especially on stairs. Tip – get a shoulder bag to carry items around (e.g. book, pain meds, water bottle)
  • Pain medication: taking maximum pain medication, added in Ibuprofen and wishing I had more
  • Physio & swelling: exercises hurt so I do them just after taking pain medication. I don’t think my knees ‘that swollen’ (turns out it is)
  • Stairs: (up and down) require one crutch and two feet on each step
  • Sleeping: not able to sleep in usual position (on front). Can sleep on side with support of pillow under my knee
  • Range of motion: without the machine, actually feels like I have less ROM than immediately post op
  • Bathing: ‘sink wash’ with a flannel

After a few days

acl repair surgery recovery day 2
I believe this was day 2 after surgery. Good colours, don’t you think?
  • Dressing & incision changing dressing each day (still weeping). Pretty colourful bruising (front – ACL repair surgery; back – medial meniscus repair)
  • Crutches: down to one crutch at home
  • Pain medication: still taking maximum pain medication and feeling pain in the hour to half hour before the next dose
  • Physio & swelling: exercises still painful but already feeling easier – I should be icing my knee but I don’t (because I’m stupid and think it’s not ‘that’ swollen)
  • Stairs: (up and down) still require one crutch and two feet on each step
  • Sleeping: still not able to sleep in usual position (on front). Can sleep on side with support of pillow under my knee
  • Range of motion: leg feeling generally more stable but range of motion still very limited
  • Bathing: somewhere between a sink wash but with the shower turned on, using a flannel. Able to wash my hair but helps I’m at my mum’s house where there’s a disabled walk-in shower with shower seat

Within a week

  • back home (alone) – feeling a bit nervous in case I tumble down the stairs and die…all alone…I get over this after a couple of goes up and down the stairs
  • Dressing and incision: dressing pretty much clean and now spending a few hours with dressing off to give incision some air. Bruising moving south (thanks, gravity)
  • Crutches: hobbling without crutches indoors but one crutch outdoors (not that I’m going out much beyond physio appointment)
  • Pain medication: ditched the coedine but otherwise still on maximum pain medication
  • Physio & swelling: first physio session just to check how I’m doing. Knee swollen preventing further range of motion – told to ice. Berate myself for being stupid
  • Stairs: (up and down) still require one crutch and two feet on each step
  • Sleeping: still not able to sleep in usual position (on front). Can sleep on side with support of pillow under my knee
  • Range of motion – at 45 degrees (the target I was given)
  • Bathing – back to more regular style of daily showering but it’s a hell of a balancing act trying not to get dressing and staples wet.

Within 10 days

acl repair surgery recovery staple
I was tempted to pull this staple out with my fingers!
  • Dressing and incision: fed up of the dressing – skin feels tight and sore and I’d take it off permanently if I wasn’t worried about snagging a staple. Speaking of staples – my body is starting to reject them and they’re working their own way out (magical)
  • Crutches: without crutches indoors and trying to replicate proper walking (rolling through the toe) but it’s deliberate and slow. Still using one crutch outside. Made it to the supermarket (accompanied) – good to have the trolley for support but getting around is tiring
  • Pain medication: starting to use pain medication more sporadically but still taking something every day
  • Physio & swelling: continuing with exercises – much easier but don’t feel like I’m making much more progress. Ice is helping with swelling but knee still tight
  • Stairs: stairs (up and down) crutch free but using the wall/banister for support and still two feet on each step
  • Sleeping: still not able to sleep in usual position (on front). Can sleep on side with support of pillow under my knee
  • Range of motion – hard to tell – feels about the same as post op, but it’s slowly getting easier to move
  • Bathing – completely over keeping my dressing dry and with ‘staple removal date’ in sight, I shower normally and put a dry dressing on immediately after each shower. Takes a toll on my leg skin but my hair and body feel better for it. For the ladies – annoyed I didn’t fit in time to wax my legs pre-op because there’s no way I can do it now, so forced to shave. Grrrr.

Within 2 weeks

acl repair surgery post staples
The day I had my staples out – 2 weeks post surgery
acl repair surgery staples gone
A bit of a close up…
  • Dressing and incision: staples are removed – hurrah! Hurt like hell but feels good.
  • Crutches: told by physio to wean myself off crutches indoors over the next week or two but I’m already there. Still too nervous to go crutch-free outside (uneven road by my house)
  • Pain medication: taking much more sporadically and most days taking none at all. Needed mostly at night if I do need them.
  • Physio & swelling: back to physio and given 3 additional new exercises (1/4 squat against wall,  1/2 lunge, supported steps going up one at a time). Taken into the gym to try the bike and step. Swelling going down but still there. Told to continue icing.
  • Exercises: advised to get back to the gym 2-3 times a week for 10 minutes of cycling. Frustrating because i) I can’t drive so need to rely on others or take taxis; ii) for just 10 minutes of exercise (and some careful upper body weights if I want), it feels like a big effort/poor use of time but I commit to it
  • Stairs: stairs (up and down) still using the wall/banister for support and still two feet on each step but now in ‘stair training’ practising on bottom step at first, taking full weight on the knee to go up (not enough ROM for going down yet)
  • Sleeping: still not able to sleep in usual position (on front). Can sleep on side with support of pillow under my knee. Seems just as irritating on the incision because now I have no protective dressing.
  • Range of motion – Leg is close to straight when lying down but not when I stand up, making standing painful after a while. Range of motion is up to about 110-120 degrees (full ROM is around 180 degrees)
  • Bathing – back to normal – so nice to put the incision under running water.

When can I return to work after ACL surgery?

The answer to that really is going to depend on what you do and how your recovery goes. I work from home and do a laptop based job and while I’ve been checking emails since week one, sitting at a desk to reply to them has been more of a challenge. Equally, because I can’t fully bend or straighten my leg, my laptop on my lap isn’t a good alternative.

I’m going to try to get back to something close to a normal work week next week (week 4). Fortunately, working from home, I can have a rest/lie down when it all gets too much. I’m also free to fit in my physio exercises as and when. Oh, and I don’t have a commute, so no need to stand on the Tube or figure out how to get to work without being able to drive (an activity for weeks 4 to 6).

If I worked in an office, I’d try to get some work from home time and return on reduced hours around weeks 3-4. In fact, that’s what the hospital told me was a reasonable expectation and it feels about right.

Within 3 weeks of ACL surgery

acl repair surgery week 3
Taken 3 weeks after surgery – I’m pleased to say it’s already starting to look very ‘what’s all the fuss about’. Can you still make-out the edging where the dressing was? It’s still spotted and bothered.
  • Dressing and incision: Still need to wear ‘soft’ clothes – jeans are tough and irritate the incision but it’s nice to be staple and dressing-free.
  • Walking: walking is better but still deliberate and slow. Also starting to understand shortened hamstring – leg sometimes feels heavy to lift off the floor, so I shuffle sometimes.
  • Pain medication: no longer taking pain pills regularly – just pop a couple pre-physio so I can get the most out of the time there or if I’ve been doing a lot of leg movement
  • Physio & swelling: exercises are going well and don’t really hurt anymore. Swelling going down but still present in pockets so continuing to ice (and wishing my op had been in summer when ice would have been more welcome).
  • Exercises: Made it to a coffee-shop solo – with one crutch and 30 minute walk instead of 10 but FREEDOM. I want to get back to yoga so badly but I don’t believe I’d be able to get on and off the floor at this stage, so I’m going to have to be more patient.
  • Stairs: slowly introducing one stair at a time for going up – do it for a few steps then revert to two feet on one step.
  • Sleeping: still seems just as irritating on the incision. I feel like I’ve made no progress on this front.
  • Range of motion -struggling to sit in a normal chair for long but most likely because I’m short (5ft) and my feet don’t touch the floor so all the weight it on my knee. Impacting my ability to work more than I thought. I’m finding my dictation software useful for writing this blog article. More awkward for emails.
  • Bathing – Bought baby bubble bath and gave my knee a good soak in the tub – bliss (even if it was a challenge getting in and out of my slipper bath).

What I’ve been told to expect/hope to achieve in the next few weeks

Week 4 – I need to figure out a better way for sitting at a desk or with a laptop on my knee so I can get more work done.

Week 5 – return to physio for the next ‘phase’. Not sure when I will be added to the lower limb class, but I’m hoping around this point.

Weeks 4- 6 – I should be able to return to driving – this will be liberating, but I need to get physio approval first because I’ve injured my ‘clutch leg’ and without that approval my insurance will be invalid.

Week 6 – return to see the surgeon for a check up. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping that’s going to be the all clear on the surgery front – no infection, the graft seems to be holding and no problems with the nuts and bolts or whatever it is they put in my knee (ribbons?) to keep everything in place

Week 10 – rough estimate of when I’ll be able to look at activities like running on a treadmill. That feels both very far off (impatience) and also much too soon (confidence) at this point.

We’ll see how it goes.

Updates on my ACL repair – My recovery timeline

Week 4

I’m one-day shy of my month-anniversary of having the surgery – where did the time go? Anyway, here’s how I’ve been getting on.

  • Dressing and incision: Jeans still irritate a bit but I’m able to wear my softer ones for hours. At home I’m still in my leggings.
  • Walking: friends and family are starting to comments that I’m walking better. I feel quicker, too. I have a bit of a limp but I’ve given my crutches back and feel confident enough to get around without them.
  • Pain medication: it’s now rare for me to take any pain pills.
  • Physio & swelling: I’ve STILL got pockets of swelling. Sigh. Told by physio to continue the exercises but I can add in leg press at the gym. I’ve also been told to step-up the bending and push my leg a bit harder on that front.
  • Exercises: The bike at the gym is feeling a lot easier although I’m completely over the exercise a couple of times a day regime. It’s only 5 minutes here and there but it’s feeling like a chore. On the plus side, I got back on my yoga mat which was a huge personal success. My practice is still very modified but nice.
  • Stairs: I’m also now walking both up and down the stairs normally though it’s still an effort and I need to be careful (no hot cups of tea in hand when going down!)
  • Sleeping: I’m finally starting to feel like I can sleep more normally. My incision can still feel a bit tender under the covers but nothing too unbearable.
  • Range of motion – I’d say I’m probably at about 160 degrees and judging from my physio, I could do more so that’s my focus for the next weeks.
  • Bathing – Absolutely back to normal 🙂

Week 6

By week 6 I was starting to get around more, although the stairs in my apartment (the steep Victorian kind of stairs) were still causing me bother. I also got back on my yoga mat for some gentle stretches (avoiding knee and kneeling positions) and it felt good.

I was, however, getting frustrated with what seemed like slow progress. I took myself to a travel conference in London, at Excel (which is almost bigger than China inside, or so it felt to me at the time) and it was way too much for my knee.

In hindsight, two things were going on: i) my expectations surrounding recover speed were too high and ii) I’d gotten a bit lax with my physio routine (after 6 weeks, finding time to do the exercises can feel like a bit of a chore and because I was mostly mobile, I tricked myself into thinking things were fine without the exercises).

Round about week 7, I had a check-up with the surgeon. My knee was x-rayed and the surgeon did a bit of pulling and pushing to check the strength of my knee. All seemed to be well. I was expecting to be discharged at this point but apparently that doesn’t happen until month 3, which was a bit of a glitch for me because I was planning a trip to Sardinia as well as a larger trip to Hong Kong, Thailand and Myanmar around week 16. This meant I would have to declare my ACL repair as a pre-existing condition on my travel insurance, and I was worried about the cost. However, as it happened, ACL repair is so common that provided you only have physio to do, they will add it to your insurance with no extra cost.

All seemed to be going slowly but surely in the right direction. And then I had a physio session and things went to sh!t.

After an intense half hour that included time in the gym and some hands-on manipulation, I woke up the next day and could barely walk. My knee had ballooned, I was in pain and I got my trusty walking cane out because my knee didn’t feel stable enough. This state endured for the best part of 2 weeks and I was frustrated at hell at being set back.

Week 8

ACL repair
My incision scar at week 10 – it’s healing really well.

Returning to the physio in pretty much the same state as I’d been at week 6, I explained the set-back and my physiotherapist told me is was highly unlikely it was anything he’d done (I remain sceptical). I left the session with a few new exercises (lateral stepping) but wouldn’t let him touch my knee.

In week 8 I took my knee to Italy (and ate all the lovely Sardinian food). I took my walking stick as a precaution, which turned out to be a good thing (I was visiting a lot of hilltop towns for a work project). With 16 hour days and a lot of time on my feet, I needed to ice my knee at least once if not twice a day and I was back to taking pain medication at least once a day but my knee held and it was nice to feel a semblance of normal travel life.

However, my physio exercises and gym visits had pretty much disappeared and by 9 weeks I had a long hard chat with myself. To recover, I needed to do my damn exercises and I needed to make them a priority. So, after my Sardinia sojourn, I got back into a physio routine. Every morning I did my exercises. Sometimes I did them at night, too. I returned to the gym (3 times a week), squeezed in a few 15 minute yoga sessions at home, bought a static bike and gym ball for while I was watching tv/not able to get to the gym.

And, d’you know what. It worked.

Week 12

Where to go in Sardinia - castelsardo
A picture from my trip to Sardinia in case you’re sick of looking at my knee!

Thanks to my increased commitment to the physio exercises, by the time I went for my 3 month check-up, I was walking close to normal, my knee felt strong and I was positive about my recovery prospects. As a hyper-mobile person, my knee still hasn’t reached full extension but I’m confident it will get there. My physiotherapist felt happy with my progress and I (almost) skipped out of the session.

At this stage, a few more exercises were added to my routine including jumping, lower squats and use of a theraband. I was also told I could start to add some running back into my routine (I’ve been on the treadmill twice since then and although terrifying, I was able to get in a few minutes worth of running). Weirdly, kneeling and crouching is still a long way off (month 6 apparently).

Week 16

ACL repair week 16
Incision scar at week 16. I’ve had a couple of days of light sun on my leg. I’m very impressed with the healing.

Around week 15, I boarded a long-haul flight to Southeast Asia for a long-term (2 or 3 months) backpacking trip through the region (but with a suitcase, not a backpack this time). I booked the trip before my op and, to be honest, I’d vastly underestimated the length of the recovery process.

Still, I have gone ahead and so far (10 days into the trip), my knee is holding up exceptionally well. I need to be more careful than I would normally and there are some activities I simply am not chancing – just yesterday I said no to a bit of cave exploration because of the risk of the uneven floor. However, I’m able to have some gentle swimming, and I’m walking a lot, which seems to be strengthening my knee. I also let a Thai masseuse have a gentle ‘go’ at massaging my leg and knee, to great success.

My legs get tired a lot more quickly than they would have before on the same trip, but mostly because I’ve lost a lot of fitness and those first few days pounding the streets of Hong Kong were agony. However, things have improved dramatically in under 2 weeks. I still have some knee swelling, made worse by the tropical heat, but I’m icing every few days, which is helping.

My scar is also looking pretty good. I kept up with bio-oil twice a day until just before I flew to Asia and now I’m going to let nature, the sea and the sun (with sunblock over it) do the job. If any ladies are interested, it’s apparently not advisable to have the site of the incision waxed for 12 to 18 months post op! My waxing lady did a great job of going around the scar and then painstakingly tweezered the rest of the hairs out one by one. Thanks to some lingering numbness, I didn’t feel a thing.

My physiotherapist has advised that I should limit my trip to 2 months instead of the original 3 months I planned – this is so I can start my lower limb class and avoid setting myself back. At the moment, I plan to see how things go. I have a theraband with me as well as the list of lower limb class exercises (a 6 week course I took after I damaged my knee) and I’m going to see if I can build those sessions in as I go along. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Six months after ACL surgery

I’m not great at listening to medical advice and so I ended up staying in Asia for that 3rd month instead of coming home and resuming my PT. And, guess what, I’m glad I did.

Why? Because I pushed my knee far more than I might have done in the UK in winter. Here’s the program I ended up putting together for myself:

  • daily walking and some gentle hiking (round about month 5) – it was so much easier to get out and move about in the warm weather and with plenty of things I wanted to go and see, I didn’t struggle with ‘gym motivation’;
  • weekly and sometimes twice weekly massage. I trust the Thai masseurs more than I trust my own GP and despite the fact that some of the lower leg massages were painful, this did a lot of loosen up my muscles, reduce the fluid on my knee and, I think, even reduce the thick scar tissue. Obviously you should take medical advice before getting a massage and I totally did that :/
  • lower limb class exercises – it turned out that I got to fit this in about once every 10 days rather than weekly but I quickly realised a hotel room served perfectly well as a gym (trampette =hotel bed, FYI) and I wasn’t really missing out on doing the classes back in the UK;
  • small amounts of running on a running machine if my hotel had a gym. I did this only a few times;
  • swimming – in the ocean, with the current. I was very careful at first, especially because of the uneven surface underfoot but within a few weeks of going away, I was gently hopping in and out of boats;
  • yoga – this was the hardest part for me because there was so litle bend in my knee at first but slowly and, I admit, a bit painfully, I have gotten much of my bend back (more on that below). I practised for about 15 minutes around 2 times a week, sometime less. However, it was the week-long yoga retreat that really helped.
  • I saw a physio once while I was away just to make sure I was on track to recover fully and he said I was doing well.

Arriving back in the UK on 31 March, within a few days I had my first catch-up with my physiotherapist since before going away. I was a bit nervous but as it turns out, he was very pleased with my progress.

I have now been medically dischaged – yay! However, because I skipped the lower limb classes, I can start them now and I am taking the NHS up on the offer even though I can now walk and run pretty well.

8 Months after ACL surgery

I’ve been back in the UK for about 2 months now and, to be honest, my recovery has hit a bit of a brick wall. I’m not exercising as much and I’m not as active because – well, work and life have gotten in the way. I have, however, resumed my lower limb class at the gym. By starting the classes so long after my op, I’m pleased to be able to work on really strengthening my knee (standing up from chair on one leg while holding a 5kg medicine ball will do that). I’ve also got the all clear to run outside.

As for the overall health and strength of my knee, here’s how it is at the moment:

  • Strength – so, so, so, so weak still. I didn’t realise that as a pair my legs feel strong but my physio asked me to hop on my injured leg and I could barely get myself off the ground. Clearly I have much work still to do on rebuilding the muscle;
  • Pain – I no longer have pain but I do get the occasional ache – usually when I’ve been static moreso than when I’ve been mobile!
  • Flexibility – as a yogi, it frustrates the hell out of me that the physio program does nothing to increase flexibility – it’s all about strength and stability. Thanks to yoga in Asia, I am now able to cross my legs, get in and out of a crouch position (if I’m careful, but it hurts and I can’t stay there for long) and kneel on all fours (yoga table top position). I’m still struggling to sit back on my haunches but I am practising. Yoga is definitely the key to getting back my flex.
  • ‘Risky’ activities – I’m still giving all challenging sports a wide berth. I did a short hike up Great Orme in North Wales on grassy terrain and it was fine and after way too many beers to be making sensible decisions, I learned some Romanian dance moves in Romania a couple of weeks ago. My next challenge is getting off the treadmill and out onto the road running. I did hit just under 5k on the treadmill and recovered well so I will take it slowly and return to the cushioned runner if I need to. Many people do return to risky sports around now but I’d like to get more strength in my knee muscle before then.
  • Popping and clicking – yep, my knee pops and clicks pretty frequently. Again, this corresponds with how inactive I’ve been. It doesn’t hurt and I’ve been told by my PT and surgeon that it’s fine. It just feels DISGUSTING. I’m hoping it will ease over time.
  • Hyper extension – like with flexibility, there’s little in the physio session designed to get my hyper-extension back and even now my injured knee doesn’t push back as far as my healthy one. However, I understand from the physio I saw overseas that this will happen as my knee muscle strengthens.
  • The scar – I’m really impressed with my scarring. Of course, you can see it but more compared to those first pictures post surgery, I’ve very happy with how minimal it looks.
ACL Surgery scar 8 months (1)

12 months after ACL surgery

It’s been a year since I had my surgery and there are many days when I don’t even  feel like I had the operation at all. However, there are still days when I certainly do feel like my knee is not quite as good as it was. Those days have gotten fewer over the year but I’m not at the point where I can report that I’m back to full knee strength and I’m not sure I will reach that point. Still, my knee is a lot stronger, sturdier and stable than it would have been if I hadn’t have the surgery.

My range of motion is actually pretty good. I can cross my legs, squat, kneel down and I’m working on sitting on my heels for increasing periods of time. I attribute this decent range of motion to yoga which I try to do at least 2 to 3 times a week.

The other physical activity I was very keen on before my ACL surgery was running and I’m pleased to say that I’m back to running outdoors with only a small fear of hitting potholes. My knee doesn’t give me any trouble when running but I’ve certainly taken a hit in terms of my overall fitness and the strength in my leg muscles has dissipated. For that reason, my progress is slow, I’m still largely running intervals and my aches post run are worse than they used to be. But this could also be down to the fact that I am now in my 40s. I used to run 10ks and I’ve got back to 5k running with hopes of increasing my distance slowly over time.

Being completely honest, I could have done more in the past year to strengthen my knee – I’ve gotten out of the habit of going to the gym and using the weights and I know that my knee would have been stronger for it.

I do still have some hideous clicking and crunching sounds, though none of them hurt. My knee sounds like screwed up paper when I go from a full squat (sitting on my haunches) to standing e.g. when crouching at my under the counter fridge and I then stand up. The internet tells me this might be my scar tissue breaking up. I hope so because the noise makes me feel queasy to the point that I loudly shout ‘crunching’ when I stand just to cover up the noise. A bit awkward when I’m in public!

The clicking comes and goes and usually happens after I’ve been pushing my knee with exercise. I’ve got to the point where I stopped worrying about it and it goes away on it’s own. Again, I don’t feel any pain.

My scar is barely noticeable in my opinion and I never give it a moment’s thought.  I am convinced the bio oil helped with scar reduction though, of course, I can’t prove that! My numbness has also gone.

ACL repair surgery scar

My office is located in the attic of my apartment, which is two flights up from my front door. The other day I caught myself running down the stairs, taking the corners at speed to catch the postman. I’ve come a long way in 12 months and to be able to run and twist and turn without too much fear has made the surgery and all the pain and dressings and physio completely worthwhile.

2 years after ACL surgery

Acl reconstruction surgery 2 years on

I never imagined I’d be writing a 2-year update on here. Mainly because I thought I’d be back to full strength. Unfortunately, I’ve recently taken myself back to physio. Don’t worry – I think these are my individual quirks rather than being indicative of what you can expect in 2 years. However, as this post has become popular and everyone has shared their own experiences below, I thought I may as well tell you what’s going on with me.

My two favourite forms of activity are outdoor running (10k but I’ll honestly settle for 5k at this point) and yoga, as well as some hiking. The problem is, I’ve never been able to get back to full strength with running or yoga. I also shy away from adventurous hikes because my knee isn’t as strong as I’d like and I worry I’ll have to be helicoptered off a mountain.

The issue with my running has been pain in my opposite hip any time I get back into a regular (3 times a week) routine. It’s probably not helped by the fact that I now only hyper-extend in one knee. This has had the effect of a few weeks on, a month or two off with the running and I’ve not been able to push through a 5k without hurting for days afterwards.

Yoga has been more of an issue with cracks and pops and, about a year after surgery, development of a noise in my knee that sounds like scrunched paper every time I squat and stand. Cue: vomit.

After spending a few days in Verbier recently, watching from the sidelines as people hiked and biked and climbed, I decided it was time to see a sports physio (private rather than NHS) to find out if I can do anything to progress from basically functioning to returning to sports without fear.

The problem was, I had back to back trips (Verbier then Malaga) and didn’t book an appointment. Then, while I was doing yoga on a hard tiled hotel floor room in Malaga (with a towel under my knee, but still, not smart in hindsight), I felt a jolt of pain in my ‘repaired’ knee.

I returned home and, with yoga on the shelf, I decided to give running another try. I’d bought some ‘Miracle balls’ (more on that above), which seemed to be working for my hip pain, so I was feeling more confident than I had in a while.

About a week into my new running routine, frustrated at my entire lack of fitness, I decided to do some hill sprints. Yes, I know what you’re thinking but we’ve already established that I don’t always make the best decisions in the moment. (Does anybody?) Plus, muscle memory isn’t always your friend. I felt a tiny knee twinge as I tackled the hill but nothing more. In fact, I was quite upbeat when I got home…until I hit the shower and noticed a huge egg shape underneath my knee cap, next to my incision scar.

Dr Google told me I had a swollen bursa sac (fluid in one of the sacs that protect the knee). Mostly likely irritated with the yoga and fully developed by the hill sprints. In fact, bursitis is commonly known as housewives’ knee because it’s usually triggered by kneeling (seriously, someone needs to update that, but I digress). It’s also common in runners. So, bingo. Full house.

While getting bursitis was not the best thing – rest, ice, compression and elevation, hello my old friends – it finally made me book that sport’s physio appointment I’d been thinking about.

And that’s when I found out I have two issues with my knee that are probably hampering me getting back to full knee fitness.

First, my knee isn’t properly aligning. It buckles inwards slightly when I move it. I suspected this right at the beginning of my recovery, watching it when I was doing leg presses at the gym, but I must have gotten used to it over the past two years because I thought it was now ok. With incorrect knee alignment comes pain when I run, difficulties in yoga and that lack of confidence and strength in my knee.

It also seems to have caused the screwed up paper noise when I crouch – more professionally known as crepitus – which is probably caused by my tendon/ligament catching on my knee bone. Nice.

The good news is, both the misaligned knee and crepitus can probably be fixed through the right combination of strengthening exercises.

But not until my bursitis has gone down. (Dr Google was right, btw.)

What next? For the next three weeks I’m on a routine of rest, which is already driving me insane. Then I’m off to China for a couple of weeks. There will inevitably be some pavement pounding and I’ll be visiting the Great Wall of China. But I’m no longer going to include the extensive hike I had planned in the Longji rice terraces (excuse me while I sulk for a bit). I’m hopeful that by the time I get back, I’ll be ready to start on the realignment and strengthening exercises. I’ll let you know.

The main point from this 2 year update (and my biggest lesson): if you’re still having trouble, go and see someone. Just because you’ve had ACL reconstruction doesn’t mean you necessarily have to put up with a bad knee.

2.5 years after ACL surgery

I’ve written a new post about the 15 things I would have done differently during my recovery?

3 years after ACL surgery

Hiking in Curacao about a week after dengue fever. Smiling but crying a little bit inside.
About one week post-dengue, hiking in Curacao. Looking healthy, all things considered (but dying a little bit inside).

I’m still updating this post because my recovery is ongoing. I had a chat with a friend about this the other day. His question was: 3 years after surgery, surely everything is done now? My answer was yes. And no.

Within a year I’d say I was 80% recovered. It was enough to work in an office and go to the gym, for sure. However, I wasn’t prepared to let go of the remaining 20% recovery. Call me a perfectionist (you won’t be the first) – I wanted to get fully back into every yoga posture I’d ever done, even the kneeling poses, and push my practice deeper. I wanted to do more than just go the gym. For those reasons, I pushed and persisted and I got results.

By year 3 my legs were stronger than they were pre-surgery. My running was coming along, entirely pain free and I was deeper into my yoga practice than I’ve ever been. 

I achieved all of this by getting an amazing physiotherapist who I met every 6 weeks and who tailored my physio exercises according to which specific muscles were strong and weak (quads, hamstrings and glutes). She got great long-term results by forcing me to slow the f&ck down with my running and how fast I’d been escalating my distance. I did my exercises 3 times a week. I was so diligent that I recall lying down in my hotel room in Milan, my head next to the toilet so I could use the bed base to do my elevated bridge exercises. 

But then things kind of fell apart. Just after my 3 year ACL anniversary (anyone else not celebrate this?), I got dengue fever and it  wiped me out. Two months on, I’m still recovering my day to day strength and my physio program has promptly fallen apart. It doesn’t help that I’m on an extended trip in Central America and I’m struggle to do my physio work (finding the space and motivation are a challenge). I feel like this steps forwards, steps back approach has happened a lot during my ACL recover but what I’ve taken away from the last year of hard work is that almost 100% recovery can be achieved (at least for me) with the right guidance, dedication and work.

If you are struggling, I’d recommend starting by finding a physio who works for you. 

So, that’s been my ACL recovery experience. Have you have an ACL repair? Did you have a different recovery experience? Let me know in the comments below. Also, happy to answer questions if there’s something I haven’t covered.

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pink knee tape on acl

472 thoughts on “ACL Repair – Timeline of My Recovery (With Pictures)”

  1. Hi! I know it’s been a while since this happened to you, but I myself just got the surgery 5 weeks ago. I am regretting it though, because I was a coper. Apparently enough that my pre-surgery fys wanted me to join a study. I ran and danced and jumped on trampolines. But every now and then it would hurt. And everyone else, surgeons and people who knew someone, everything I read said that I should get it. So after 9 months I did. And the whole 2-3 weeks on crutches was quite the exaggeration. I still can’t walk, my knee hurts, it catches and gets stiff. I didn’t get a brace because my meniscus was fine. My fysios( I have 3) are worried and I’ve been barred from further exercise till they can check me out, plus I moved my surgeons check up to next week. So I’m hoping you have some insight – when did you walk normally? When did you let the crutches go for real? When you started walking, exactly how were you and what challenged you? When could you stretch your leg into overextension?

    Hope you have progressed beyond being aware of the acl surgery 🙏❤️

    • Hi Alex, so sorry you’re having surgery regrets and that your recovery isn’t going smoothly. While I was off 2 crutches within a couple of days, I’d say I had a fairly slow recovery. I definitely had stiffness and getting range of motion back was tough work. Now…what, six years on, most days I don’t think about the ACL. It troubles me to run (I get a puff of pre-bursitis if I haven’t been doing the strength exercises so mostly I don’t try to run). Otherwise, it gets a bit niggly in the cold weather and I do have it in mind when I trampoline with my niece (just fun stuff). All that said, things have improved a lot and those hazy days and even first year or two post surgery seem like just a bad distant memory. So, I am sure it will get better for you. I’d say get check out (which you’re doing anyway) and see what they say. Then stick to the physio program. That was the thing that slowly and surely got me back on track. I wish you the best of luck. Do come back and let me know how you get on!

  2. Hi Jo,

    Firstly I’d like to echo what many people on here have said already and thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry it’s been such a rollercoaster for you!

    I’m at the 7 month mark now and I’ve been feeling pretty downbeat about my progress. I regained full extension pretty quickly but I don’t yet have full flexion. In fact, sitting back in a kneel (with hands supporting) is very painful and I can’t maintain it for long. My physio routine is yet to include any jumping & I haven’t done any running to date. In fact, I’ve recently switched physiotherapist and my new program is less intense than the previous one, so it feels like a step back.

    Worst of all is the crepitus. As with your experience, it doesn’t hurt but it’s a very unpleasant sound that discourages me from most exercises. The knee “clunks” when entering and leaving full extension, as well as when climbing stairs – this wasn’t even the case when I was first able to tackle stairs and is a more recent development. Extension from 90° sounds like a crisp packet rustling!

    My latest physiotherapist is trying to focus on lessening the crepitus and all I can do is hope it works! Of course, the current pandemic has also prevented me from having a check-in with the surgeon to confirm that nothing is amiss.

    • Hi Richard, my whole recovery was characterised by that feeling of one step forward, two steps back but I did find that overall slowing down the recovery made for better results in the long term. I’m afraid I still have the crepitus but after a couple of years I have come to get used to it. It’s horribly unnerving at first but over time just becomes part of my knee movement. I have used yoga to slowly build up my kneeling. Again, it took me a long time and even now if I don’t include kneeling in my day to day for a while, the motion gets stiff. Keep at it and well done on being proactive with the physio. This will help for sure in the longer term. Come back and let me know if your physio can solve the crepitus!

  3. Based on my earlier comment, coming up to two years post now. Just checking in on your progress, which sounds like it has been good. I was fortunate enough to be offered an ACL recovery class at my local hospital in Lewisham (London, England, for international readers), which I did religiously for about a year. It really helped with my recovery and getting confidence back in the knee. They assessed progress by doing hop tests, measuring how far you can so a single and triple hop, and one legged squats (how many – feel the burn!). They discharged me when I could go further and do more on my injured knee (which was my right knee, so was probably the stronger one pre-injury). I’m back to running at the sort of volume I managed before the injury, though not perhaps the speed. Still tentative running on steep downhills but that is more psychological than anything to do with perceived instability. My main take-out from the whole experience is that it you have to take your recovery seriously and put the hours in to get back to normal. I know that’s the message you’re putting out there and I hope everyone that reads this takes it on board. Thanks again for telling your story. There’s lots of information out there about ACL recovery but when I had my injury, it was the stories of recovery that I sought out and yours was one of the first, and best, that I found.

    • Hi Nigel, thanks for coming back and sharing your experience and echoing the slow and steady progress message. I’m so pleased your recovery has been good! Sounds great you had the specific physio. Good luck with the ongoing recovery!

  4. I too am 3 years post ACL surgery (surgery was February 2017). I’m still actively working with a physio. I had a very rough start with pain derailing my rehab essentially month 3 to month 11 where I was went home to rest that entire time as per my medical team. Finally getting the right rehab guidance at nearly a year post op (turns out full rest was NOT a good idea with a healing tendon), then 2 long hard years of consistent weight lifting trying gain strength in order to get back to my previous life. I made it to intro to running last summer finally, but then more niggles started to crop up and derail things again. Still so much more to go, pain doesn’t allow me to speed things up at all. In the lines of “too much too soon” I have this knack for getting all sorts of secondary injuries that put a stick in the wheel of progress too. But I keep going, I’m going to get there!

    • Hi Shannon, I was experiencing the same problem and turns out, for me, it was a combo of doing too much too soon and not having the muscle strength there to support my activities like running. I ended up going to a PT and getting a dedicated program for my recovery/exercise and it was a game changer. Good luck with your recovery.

  5. Hi Jo,
    Thank you for sharing your story! I have read it multiple times while finally making my decision to have surgery. I partially tore my ACL and meniscus 2 years ago in a soccer injury. After multiple PT sessions, an MRI and 2 visits with my orthopaedic surgeon, I have finally decided to take the leap and have the surgery. I pondered this decision for as long as I did because I was actually starting to feel a lot better and didn’t think I needed the surgery. But most recently I’ve been experiencing pain in other parts of my body for which my doctor believes is caused by the instability in my knee. I am 44 yrs old and am not ready to give up all of the things I enjoyed before the injury. I’ve been active most of my life mostly with sports such as soccer and basketball and although I may never play them competitively anymore, I would still like to know that I can play the odd pick up game without the worry of re-injuring my knee. And I no longer want to be worried about falling on ice and want to be able to go for long hikes and enjoy the rest of my active life with my kids. My surgery is booked for April 3rd and although I’m freaking out a bit about the recovery, I think I can do this. Reading your blog and the responses from everyone else has helped me put a lot of thought into this decision and I am very grateful! Here’s hoping I emerge victorious in the end! Thanks again!

    • Hi Rita, well done on making the decision that’s right for you. The recovery can be a long journey but it’s completely do-able and worth it for long-term stability. Good luck with the surgery. Come back and let us know how you get on!

  6. My name is Oscar and I have surgery in a week. Finding your article was bittersweet. I found what you wrote to be very specific which is exactly what I was looking for. However, I really didn’t think recovery would take that long. My accident happened over a month ago and I feel like I’m Already getting better every day and now I have to go back to being as bad as I was right after The accident. I was Actually hit by a drunk driver while driving an electric scooter. They’re small and you find them in downtown areas here in the states. But anyways, now I have this huge surgery even though I feel like I’m almost back to my old self, except for sports and running. I’m very active as well, I’ve done Mini marathons and tough mudders to help me stay in shape. Your blog got to me because I got bit by the travel bug as well. I’ve hit Southeast Asia, Central and South America in the past year alone. I had plans to leave December 19th for southern Mexico, then slide down to Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, but now I have surgery that day. It’s a Christmas miracle. Your article made me think of all the crazy things I’ve done in my travels. Hiking in Chang Mai, Thailand, swimming in caves in Puerto Princesa, Phillipines, and actually I’ve hiked volcanoes too, In Ecuador, I’m not sure where you did. I want to go back to being the free, careless soul I am but after reading all these it’s a little scary. I guess as a whole I’m pretty scared. Im only 25 and the idea of never being 100% again is a little bewildering to me. I’m also a clean freak to a point and am terrified of how showers/restrooms are gonna work. I’m used to showering twice a day sometimes. BUT ANYWAYS, I’m glad I found your blog, it was exactly what I needed to be mentally prepared. I’ve always done things without thinking, like a renting a motorcycle and taking my own road trips in multiple countries, but this I cant stop overthinking. Not working is also deteriorating to my mental state, I feel useless and keep gaining weight. I wish I could fast forward to a year ahead as fast as I read your article. Glad I ran into this on my 3am paranoia google search and I’ll definitely explore the rest of your page. Great read!

    • Hi Oscar, sorry it took me so long to reply – I went and got dengue fever (because apparently I like all manner of injuries while I travel). It was lovely to read about your travel adventures. I’d say try not to worry. Recovery is a long stretch (though many people recover really quickly) but it doesn’t mean you can’t do things alongside. I went on a 3 month trip to Asia a couple of months after my surgery. And right now I’m about to head back into Panama. My knee still isn’t 100% but I’m 100% not letting it stop me travel. Slow, steady and carefully but you can keep travelling and you can get back to good health. Also: screw drunk drivers. Grrrrr. Hope the surgery went well.

  7. HI. thanks for your details comments. I had ACL surgery just over 2 years ago. I am generally happy with the surgery, can do full gym, outdoor running etc. But what I have noticed for about the past month or so , is every now and again, i’ll be walking then suddenly there is a short sharp pain in the knee, almost as if a ligament has slipped or something. If I then bend my knee backwards and straighten it out again it is back to normal. But I am just wondering if this is something normal or whether I should see someone about it?

    • Hi Edward, my physio and doctor has always told me the best way to decide what to do when I feel pain is treat it (RICE) and see if that makes it better. If it does, I’ve probably just overdone the exercise, which you can do with any part of your body. However, sharp and severe pain sounds like a warning bell, unrelated to exercising too hard, and I would go and get it checked out (and do keep in mind I’m no medical expert!). Good luck and hopefully a bit of rest will fix it!

      • Hi , i have very important questions, i am about to do a ACL surgery and i think i will give up from sports do i risk reinjury ? and after 6 months can you do daily tasks like sitting or driving the car or mabye transporting some heavy shopping bags?

        • Hi Casli, every surgery and recovery is different. Assuming your surgery and recovery goes well, you should be able to do many sports. I was driving within a few weeks. The same with carrying shopping though I was a bit careful at first. Good luck with the surgery.

  8. Thank you so much for this blog! It really helped me to realize the magnitude/reality of the surgery recovery time. I tore my MCL and partially tore the ACL skiing when I was 27. Two months with a leg brace, PT and eventually back to running, hiking, diving, skiing etc. Fast forward 25 years: during a ski fall in January 2019 tore my ACL completely. Diagnosis delayed for a month since I flew next day for a work commitment and hobbled around for three weeks in my old brace with a lot of pain and swelling. MRI when I returned revealed the extent of the damage, but I did PT religiously and was back to walking/jogging (flat) by end of April 2019. Now the big decision – to do the recommended surgery or not. I was torn since in theory I was now mobile but had terrible stability on uneven surfaces and inner knee pain on any type of hills. Also I had had a rather nasty complication in the past during a ‘routine’ outpatient procedure for something totally unrelated so any type of surgery is terrifying to me. Went ahead with the surgery just over a week ago in the hopes that I will get back to the outdoor activities I love like skiing, hiking and running eventually. I had an ACL donor graft due to my age, repair of both the medial and lateral meniscus, and some bone ‘punching’ to help stimulate cartilage growth since worn down to femur. The surgery and in/out time was surprisingly fast. I’m from UK but living in USA. Surgery was 2 hours and I was leaving to my house within 30 minutes of the surgery with a leg machine. General anesthesia, no staples, soft intubation. First 36 hours great – hahaha – until the surgical meds wore off, however I’m managing to control most of the pain with OTC tylenol and ibuprofen. Surprisingly my biggest issue has been back pain from the sitting/lying (everyone tells you to rest but it’s just SO uncomfortable – and at night with the inflate/deflate leg sleeves to prevent blood clots even worse!!!). Your blog really helped me prepare for the realities of the limited mobility and try to organize things to make life easier in advance. I had my follow up appointment yesterday and am confined to a further 7 weeks on crutches, with locked leg brace and only ‘toe touch’ weight bearing but I start PT tomorrow so trying to stay positive!

    • Hi Caroline, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m forever impressed by the range of different approaches around the world and also the resilience of the people going through this long recovery process. Let’s just hope it gets you the stability you need. Come back and let us know how you get on! Good luck with the recovery!!

    • I had AcL tear and meniscus tear 6 months doctors suggested rehabilitation with physiotherapy instead surgery. So I went to 2 months physiotherapy. And was almost pain free till recently . I am having sudden pain and instability in knee.please advise me whether to go for surgery or continue with physiotherapy .Also doing surgery for AcL reconstruction and meniscus tear would be worth. Kindly give advise

      • Hi Dheeraj, only a qualified medical professional can really give you proper advice on whether surgery is good for you in your situation. Personally, I’d go back and see if there is a specific reason for the pain. Sadly, the instability is a risk you’ll have unless you have surgery so it’s up to you to consider whether that’s a risk you can take (I suspect it’s less of a risk if you’re not very active and more of a risk if you are active?). Good luck and I hope your doctors can help.

      • Just go for it .you will feel stresse do it or not asking for advice gitting different answers.
        It’s happened to me I had surgery one week ago
        Some improvement no pain

    • Hi Caroline, I tore my all at 20 and had the surgery in 1986. fast forward to today
      (35 years later) and this surgery has served me well. I am active and have played ice hockey and skied ever since. now in 2021 Im 54 and wondering if I need too get the all redone with the technology of today. Im searching for people who can tell me what to do. I still play hockey 3 times a week and that feels fine but snow skiing hurts my knee after 1-2 hours. I have shortened the length and weight of my skis to compensate but that only helps marginally. Im 54 and plan to be active with my grandkids all growing up. do you know of a resource that discusses others who had similar types of situations?

      Marc in Canada

  9. Hello Jo –

    I am 72 hours into post-op. I injured myself during a volleyball game; I was setting a ball (on turf) in a pivot motion, knee turned with foot planted – loud pop, intense pain, instant swelling and no stability – textbook ACL full tear (with some meniscus tears too) I think I am the first volleyball injury on this blog. Injury occurred on 8.16.19 and I had my surgery on 9.16.19 – exactly one month after… I was surprised how long it takes on NHS; I live in the US, and have private insurance so I was able to move everything along pretty quickly. One benefit of waiting longer is I can see where more pre-rehab would help with recovery (increasing muscle strength, etc.) But, I wanted it over so I took first available date. I did the pre-rehab 3x per week and continued the exercises at home to help prepare me for surgery. During surgery I received a nerve blocker shot in groin area, IV in hand, and had the tube down throat for anesthesia – not sure if I had a catheter. I agree the time “in” to time “out” took much longer. Arrived at 9:30 am and got home around 4 pm (I did have a 45 min drive each way.) Making the decision to have the surgery was difficult since even after 1 month of re-hab, I was walking great and I was able to get back to life – knowing I was going “under the knife” felt like I was taking 10 steps backwards even though in the big picture, I knew it would help me in the long run. I am a pretty active person, I play volleyball weekly which includes league play; I enjoy playing pickle-ball on the weekends, and even though I am not an avid skier, skiing is something I do enjoy a few times during the season especially around New Year’s with friends. And, when on vacation, hiking is definitely a go to activity. Making the decision to have my ACL repaired was partly based on those activities, and I agree with Jo, the idea of having something disconnected kinda freaks me out. I knew the recovery would be hard based on everything I researched and reading this blog (which helped quite a bit – thank you). Now that it’s done, and I am 4 days post op, I have so many emotions flowing thru me…one hour (yes, I judge by hours right now) – One hour, I feel like “I am doing good”, then the next hour I am feeling depressed like my leg/knee will never be close to the same. I am typically an optimistic person but something like this really tests your optimism. My first post-op ortho appt is 9.26.19 which is 1.5 weeks after surgery; eager to find out next steps. My first PT appt is 9.30.19, eager for that too even though I heard that is where the hard work starts and can be painful. I am also told may be 12 months before I can be back on the court again which totally sucks but I guess I will just take it day by day. Taking that comment into consideration, the funny thing is, that was my number one concern before surgery (playing sports again, being active, etc.) but now that I am so immobile right now, my biggest goal is to just get mobile for general life (walking, shopping, going out with friends, etc.) In fact, I am concerned that once this is all said and done, if my fear of repeating this injury will hold me back from the things I love – being almost 50 I am sure has a little to do with that versus being in my teens. Sorry for the long post – feels good to vent. Hoping you have worked thru your “hiccups” and are 100%! Time for me to get back to RICE and I know this group understands that doesn’t have anything to do with eating, lol! A few side notes: my pain was manageable with the block and meds – I never experienced the horrible pain some have described, my doctor has me non-weight bearing for 2 weeks so on crutches for that time until my appointment, and my leg is pretty stiff – slight ROM. I am hoping I can achieve more ROM after PT starts – I am following doctor’s orders even though some experiences above started ROM much earlier – but everyone’s situation/injury may be a little different so following the orders. Best of luck to everyone!

    • Thanks for sharing, Melissa. I definitely agree on the steps forward and back between injury and surgery. Once you get mobile again, it’s hard to force yourself backwards but I also agree it was worth it. I hope the recovery is continuing. Come back and share with us in weeks and months how you’re getting in!

  10. Oh Jo, I wish I hadn’t found your blog and read so many of the comments. Now I’m getting the jitters about the procedure. In June I was standing on a stool cleaning above the door. As I reached, the stool tipped and down I went. My left foot took all my weight square against the floor, so hard that my left knee twisted and collapsed on impact. I heard and felt the pop and knew I was done for. Couldn’t put any weight on it. Knew it was an ACL. The next day I went to urgent care to demand an MRI. The young P.A. was dismissive and sent me for an xray instead, even though I knew this was an ACL issue. It then took a month for my physician’s office to put in the referral for the MRI which confirmed a completely torn ACL. Ortho surgeon couldn’t even see me until end of August and soonest surgical date is November, which means my holidays are toast. I’m 60. He said he’ll be using a cadaver donor for the repair, that there will be three incisions, and I’ll be in a brace walking with a straight peg leg for weeks, and on crutches. He said it’ll be a year of recovery and that I must have home help for at least two weeks. (I don’t have any support system at all.) I’ve been taking Ibuprofen every day, keeping a compression sleeve on it, elevating with ice many times every day, and using a cane. I’m a disabled person with many health issues, but my knees were perfect. At least I knew I had legs that would take me where I needed to go. Now my dog hasn’t been walked in a month. Reading what you and others went through, I’m truly terrified. The surgeon says that surgery is non-negotiable. You referred to this as your “new normal.” I’ll be going through this alone over the holidays in the winter. I appreciate your candor…

    • Oh Rachel, I’m so sorry to have added to your distress. Here’s some positive things to focus on – your knee can get better, and lots of people in here have had more positive experiences than me. I would also add that I had very high standards for my recovery. I wanted to climb volcanoes and surf and do yoga. All those day to day activities like walking a dog were much more quickly and easily recovered. Weeks and months rather than a year. I also live alone and though I had a few people nearby, I did most of it on my own. It was scary at first but absolutely do-able. I don’t know what your other health issues include but if they are the kind of thing that can benefit from more physical exercise (some health issues do), you may end up improving more than just your knee if you commit to a good physio programme? There are people out there who can support you both physically and emotionally – ask for help. We all need it sometimes! And you can message me any time you want to either in this group or privately through email or any of my social media pages. There’s every chance your surgery and recovery won’t be as bad as you’re currently imaging. At least that’s my hope for you <3

  11. Two and a half weeks ago, I had an ACL surgery on my left knee. Two weeks after surgery, the doctor told me to sleep without immobilizer (brace). So I have been sleeping on my sides without brace as I only get sleep lying on sides. As I bend my knee in the sleep at times unknowingly, I experience swelling and sprain in my knee when I wake up. I am a bit scared if I will tear the installed graft or mess it up for worse. Any answers???

    • Hi James, the best thing to do is get your knee checked out. I think swelling and pain 2 weeks after surgery is pretty common but best get an expert to check it. I used to put a pillow between my knees to give extra support, which might be worth a try…

  12. Hi – thank you for this blog. It helped me a lot to learn what to expect. I am 46 years old and tore my right knee ACL and meniscus (in two places) on Dec 22, 2018 and had surgery on Feb 12, 2019. I will not bore you will all the details of my experience, but will just highlight a few milestones.
    1. I was surprised at how little pain there was. I felt sore two days after surgery once drugs wore off and took pain killers twice. Never needed since then. Only high dose of ibuprophen.
    2. PT was the key! I started it a week after surgery in person, three times a week and also on my own every day, multiple times a day. Eventually it became two times a week, then one and at 5 month mark I was cleared to stop.
    3. I bought a stationary bike and about a 6 weeksinto it, I began riding it. Also used exercise bands.
    4. I went back to the gym at 10 week mark and resumed my HIIT exercises. I avoided box jumps and squats, other than that doctor encouraged to do anything else.
    5. I am now 7 months in and feel stronger than ever. I pretty much can kneel all the way and have no pain. Just a little sore on the side of my knee but doctor said it should go away at around one year mark.

    I am very physically active so it was important for me to get this done and get back in shape. Look forward to skiing this winter!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like all that PT and persistence paid off for you – well done at sticking to it. Good luck with the skiing!

  13. I had my ACL reconstruction of my right knee 4 weeks ago on 2/ August /2019 .The first 2 weeks were miserable .The knee was swelled alot .I did regular physio therapy exercises as guided by the physiotherapist. while it started bending 90 ° by now, I started walking using a stick sometimes while walking ,straightning and bending my knee I feel a popping sound out of my knee I am really worried about this !!!

    • Hi Hemant, the advice I’ve been given is – popping + pain = go and see a doctor. Just popping, no pain = normal. I have the last one ALL the time. It’s disgusting but apparently nothing to be worried about but hearing that from a doctor is always better so why not call your physio?

      • Hi Jo,
        Thanks for your blog and all the info. Apparently the popping and crunching sound is Arthritis.
        I fell off a ladder in July and tore my ACL completely. I was laid up with ice etc for about 6 weeks and after about 2-3 months all the swelling went and I can function fine now although can’t completely bend or straighten my leg, however it’s much better than before.
        Anyway I’m on the NHS waiting list but now considering not proceeding as I don’t ski or play competitive sports.
        I’m back in the gym squatting and deadlifting as before nearly and really now don’t want to have surgery, they said it only helps 10-15% and that arthritis happens in 10 years either way, however they did advise me to proceed as I’m active. A bit confused, I’m 47 and otherwise fit and healthy, but it seems such a hard decision! Thanks for all your info and sharing your story.

        • Hi Tycho, it is a hard decision with definite pros and cons. I think it ultimately comes down to mindset – I know I would have limited myself if I didn’t have the surgery. If that won’t play on your mind and you can do what you need to, why have the surgery? I am however interested to know why your surgeon suggested having it repaired. I’m active and my surgeon said it was up to me and didn’t suggest one route or another. I wonder if there is some activity you’re doing that could benefit from the repair? I’d ask him/her that…

  14. Hello im Brian im only 21,i just had surgery on my left acl and also i had a tear on my meniscus which they fixed both and i was wondering how you were able to start putting pressure on both legs within days ? My dr told me i can only do “toe touch” on my leg left and to not walk around with out my crutches for 6 weeks & he said forsure 6 weeks no doubt about it before i start to put pressure on my repaired leg ? Does this sound normal ? Also i have stitches instead of staples and im kind of scared/neevous since i see alot of people got staples instead of stitches . Hope you reply and its great to see that your happy that you got the surgery 🙂

    • Hi Brian, I’m glad you’re through your surgery ok. It’s worth saying that my ‘putting pressure on both legs’ was more of a hobble with a hand on the wall for security. I was very nervous but it was ok and gradually I built up but it took weeks of hobbling. I would definitely say go with what your Dr says. From the comments it looks like everyone gets different advice and it could be because although we had similar injuries, the surgery might be different. I would say you got lucky having stitches! I had some stitches removed recently (different injury, ha ha) and I felt nothing 🙂 Best of luck with the recovery.

    • Hello
      That’s too funny I had ACL reconstruction surgery lateral meniscus and meniscus surgery also on August 28 to Day is 3 weeks post OP no stitches and I been told I can start to put weight on it toe touch like a egg under my foot . I have not shorewed since surgery.

      I am off Pain meds except Ibuprofen .
      Good luck

    • Hi Brian – I saw your comment and my doctor has told me the same thing. Just light balancing pressure if needed but basically no-weight-bearing for 2 weeks; possibly 4 weeks. I just had my ACL surgery on Monday 9.16.19 and I am in the “guts” of the first few days which is hard. I wanted to mention that I had a cadaver ACL versus my own hamstring and I thought maybe that was the difference between Jo, you and me? Did you have a donor or use your own hamstring? I was also impressed with Jo’s comment about already being at a 45 deg within days and putting pressure on when I am suppose to keep my leg straight with no pressure. I am probably feeling the same as you and wanting to make sure I am not delaying a recovering or getting stiff knee. Any updates would be appreciated – thanks! Melissa PS (Jo, your blog is very helpful, I have been reading it several times since my surgery last Monday. How are you now?

      • Hi Melissa, happy to help. It seems every doctor has a different strategy. In hindsight I wish I’d had equal work on bending and strengthening. My physio focused on the former. It might be worth asking your doc if you can get bending. I can tell you it did no hard, as terrifying as it was so I don’t see how it would be different given we’re all (probably/mostly) human?!

  15. Hi Jo, hello everyone than you, for this wonderful detailed blog i have gone through the ACL reconstruction 6 weeks back and now started walking without any support of walker or crutch’s. Iam still doing my physio exercise and reading this helps me to be patient and keep going positive .Iam 30 year old and after those horrifying pain full days now i feel good about the decision to go for the surgery .

    • Hi Nithin, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad you feel like you made the right decision. Good luck with the rest of your – patient – recovery!

  16. Thank you. I can now measure my progress thru your actual experience. It’s hard to find month by month “what to expect”.
    I fell 11/2018 during a pretty aggressive round of tennis doubles. Later, examining my shoes, I noticed wear on the side—which slid then grabbed, causing me to torque then sever my ACL, tear both meniscus, fracture my tibia and bruise my tibia plateau so bad that it is into my bone marrow. I had the choice of living with it or repair. I had surgery 8/7. So far, I’m doing okay, using a cane, wearing a brace and will start PT tomorrow. I know this will be a long recovery but by your report at least I know somewhat what to expect. I plan on finding a good massage therapist, too. I delivered mail for 30 years and have never had any issues with my knees. I’m 62, so I’m hoping my recovery won’t be hindered by my age. I am taking a recovery vitamin from a good company and vegan protein. *I used an ice machine my first week, 24/7, which is worth every cent.
    Also at least 4 oranges every day for first month. I have had both shoulders replaced. The ice machine and the oranges I give credit to—I was back kayaking in less than 3 months. I also added cayenne pepper to my smoothie for extra help with inflammation.

    • Cayenne pepper is an old trick in my family – and one I didn’t think about for myself. Thanks for the reminder. I wish you a very speedy recovery.

      • Good day.
        Friendly Hello from South Africa.

        Thank you for taking your time writing and sharing your acl journey. I really appreciate it!

        Im 5months post acl reconstruction. Patellar graph… Which means walking was a massive challenge!

        To be honest at the moment… I’m rocking the weights! Almost sqauting my own body weight and leg pressing my own weight etc. I could have pushed myself more but this was part of the learning process. My point is not to brag about my progress, as I’m not 100% not there yet, but I can 200% recommend you follow Ben Patricks program…. Search knees over toes on youtube…. It’s amazing!

        And yes.. Weight training is the bomb! But before your push the weights heavy, make sure you have full Bending.

        I’m not a expert, but I have done loads of research on my injury and even exactly what happened on the sports field that night. Recovery for me and you before the age of 50 is much easier.

        Thanks again for you sharing your experience. It really means allot.


        • Hi Regardt, that’s impressive recovery – well done. I do like a happy ACL story, it motivates the rest of us. Thanks for sharing your tips, too. I’ll check out that program.


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