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:

My Real Life Guide To ACL Surgery and Recovery

Injuring my ACL – My Story

15 Surprises From My ACL Repair Surgery – What They Don’t Tell You

ACL Recovery – 15 Things I Would Have Done Differently

Gadgets That Helped My ACL Recovery

 

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. 

My ACL Repair Recovery Experience

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.

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 flat (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 Italy as well as a larger trip to Southeast Asia 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 on a trip to Italy (Sardinia). 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 for 2018, 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? You can find find my latest post here.

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.

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

  1. Hi Jo,
    Thankyou for this blog I have been searching every night for months to find some real life experiences on my injury and repair and tonight am delighted to have found this.
    I injured my left knee during a fall at home in November 2016 where my knee twisted and I heard the dreaded pop.
    Through a trip to my GP and going privately for an MRI, a ruptured ACL and an anterior horn tear in my meniscus was diagnosed. My health insurance wouldn’t cover the operation so I was put on the NHS list for surgery in April 17.
    From the time of injury I was building up the strength in my legs by walking spinning and lower limb exercises but it seemed like every time I got to a good place my knee would give way and I would injure it again. This happened randomly when stepping down from a stool, or dancing at a party or one time I was getting on a motorbike and used the wrong leg to weight bear and ended up on my back looking at the sky. The last time was November past, I was painting the kitchen and stepped off my small stool and my knee went. I always wondered what a pain of ten was like until I had a collapsing knee! This time I couldn’t walk at all and had to go to A&E. There they put me
    In a leg brace and told me not to work or drive for 6 weeks. After 4 weeks the physio in the hospital wrote to the surgeon in charge of my ACL repair and I got a review appointment in December and an Emergency MRI. Results of this showed a bucket handle meniscus tear and an MCL tear as well as the ACL rupture. The meniscus tear had become stuck in the joint which was why I had so much pain and couldn’t properly weight bear
    The surgeon decided to do surgery straight away on the meniscus and I had it on 12th Jan. My ACL repair is scheduled for 21st March.
    I’m one week in after the meniscus repair and as my stomach doesn’t like codeine I’ve havent taken any medication since some morphine in the hospital but don’t think I will get away so easily next time. I was walking straight away but it’s slow and I ice all the time. My knee is still very unstable and I am so scared that it will give way again while I wait although I can’t wait to have the surgery and all I really care about at this stage is seeing the other side and being able to get a really good hike and be able
    to do simple activities without worry of falling down.
    I have been wearing flat shoes for over a year now and maybe in another year will be able to get my heels back out.
    Have you heard of anyone having a similar experience of two operations close together. I know I haven’t had the ACL repair yet but I really would advise anyone to have it if it’s an option. the risk of further damage to your knees is too great and I certainly didn’t value my mobility enough until I didn’t have it. I am 44 and was reasonably fit and active and the loss of fitness and extra pounds I am carrying don’t help the frustration. Now I can see an end my motivation is blooming.
    Sorry for the long post and thankyou.

    Reply
    • Hi Catherine, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience – on this thread I think people really appreciate the longer posts. For me, it’s great to hear from someone who went without surgery for a while. I did contemplate this and reading your description, I’m pleased I went ahead with the surgery. That sucks about your meniscus 🙁 I spoke to a private surgeon who told me to have two separate operations but I couldn’t see any good reason to do it separately (in your case, you were in extreme pain) but I don’t know if it gives you comfort that a private surgeon suggested I do the operations separately – he thought my recovery would be easier but didn’t go into why. On the topic of heels, I had a break-through moment on Christmas day when I put an old, favourite pair of heels on and walked in them like nothing had happened to my knee. So, keep hope. Good luck with your second surgery and keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

      Reply
  2. I’m now 4 weeks post-ACL reconstruction and want to let you know that this BLOG was super helpful in the process. So Thank You Jo! For others considering surgery: The day of the procedure and the next day, I felt FINE, but burdened by a cast around my knee. Day 3-4 I was completely out-of-it and relied on friends to change the ice bags in my ice machine, get me elevate my leg and exercise. I was LOOPY. It was hard. I stopped meds after 3 days, took Tylenol for a day and 1/2, then went BACK to pain-meds for 2 additional days. Yes, it was unbearably painful! I was told that you SHOULD expect pain after your first PT appointment. I had to take Lyft there and back. I’d also planned ahead and ordered FOOD-IN for a good week as I didn’t want people puttering around my kitchen which happens anyway! After 7-10 days, I was driving but chose to go out ONLY at hours of the day when there’d be little traffic. I did a little grocery shopping which was HARD and NOT on the list of “things to do” and I regret it. I think it SLOWED down my healing process. I chose to do my surgery over the Christmas/New Year Holiday so spent 3 weeks at HOME and back at work at week 4! Fortunately, I can SIT and prop up my leg at work. That first week, I had painful days and had to take an Aleeve. Now I remind myself to prop up my leg and ICE during the day. When I’ve got time, I’ll even get on the floor and do stretches, leg lifts, etc. It IS difficult getting UP from the floor. Ugh. I also am riding a stationary bike 30 mins in the morning and 30 mins in the evening DAILY. Tomorrow will be exactly 34 days since I had surgery. I am walking up and down stairs but I hold onto the bannister. I’m going to yoga, but therapeutics and Urban Zen only. I’m afraid to attempt a downward dog or flow. Yesterday, my I was able to bend my knee to 118 degrees, but I THINK I should be at 120-130 … Progress continues …

    Reply
    • Jill! You made it out the other side 🙂 I’m really pleased the surgery and recovery went/are going well. I’m impressed with your physio commitment – you’re an inspiration! Keep at it and do come back and let me (us all) know how you’re getting on.

      Reply
  3. Hiya Jo.

    I contacted the consultant and he said I just need to strengthen my quads.

    Today we went to the phisio and he said it was normal and he gave me some good exercises to use to strengthen my muscles.

    Thank you for your advice for contacting the consultant ?

    Reply
  4. I’m twenty one years old and I’ve just had my second ACL repair surgery two weeks ago today. I tore the ACL and meniscus in my left knee and had surgery to correct it 6 years ago and then tore the one in my right knee this past July.

    I completely understand the impatience with wanting to recover more quickly, I want to get back to running and jumping, going to yoga and spin class everyday. The good news is that the scar gets even lighter as time goes on, as well. Mine is hardly detectable at all.

    It’s a brutal injury to suffer but for anyone who is concerned about recovery, I can say after 6 whole years my left knee honestly feels as good as it did before the injury ever occurred. Here’s to hoping my right one sees the same recovery and improvements! Good luck to you all and your knees!

    Reply
    • Ouch, second ACL! But at least you have everything you learned the first time round from you recovery. Also, great news about the scar reducing and you experience six years down the line. I need to start a new program of strengthening my knee as it’s not feeling too strong at the moment so thanks for the motivation. I wish you a speedy recovery.

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  5. Hiya! I am 13 and I have had acl surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago. I am now walking around the house without crutches quite easily however my leg has been locking and crunching worse than before the surgery! Should I be worried and ring the consultant? Your article is amazing thank you so much for doing it! Xx

    Reply
    • Hi Olivia, I’m no doctor but I’d recommend contacting you consultant. The reason I say this is that every time I had a query or worry about my knee post surgery, the question they always asked is whether or not it was locking. Mine wasn’t but I got the impression this meant something might not be right. I’m sorry to say this to you and I really hope I’m wrong but best to get it checked out. Fingers crossed for you. I hope you can come back and share your experience once you’ve spoken to your consultant in case other people have locking issues. Good luck!

      Reply
        • Hi Rishu, everybody is different and when it’s safe to remove your bandages will depend on your own scar and healing. I’d recommend speaking to your doctor. It’s not the quickest process so I wouldn’t recommend rushing things otherwise you might set yourself back further. I wish you luck.

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  6. Thank you for your blog chronicling your acl surgery recovery. I tore my ACL skiing in Mammoth, CA on Nov. 20, 2017-my first day of the season. I had surgery 6 days ago on Dec. 14. I was unprepared for how much pain I would be in. I go to doctor tomorrow to have stitches removed-no staples for me. I also have my first physical therapy appointment tomorrow. My plan was to go back to work on Jan. 8, but now I’m not so sure.I’m a 46 year old elementary school principal-eager to get back to barre classes, skiing, biking, and hiking.

    Reply
  7. I really enjoyed your blog. I tore my ACL on Nov. 20, 2017 in Mammoth skiing-first day of the season for me! I am 6 days post-op. I was unprepared for how much pain I would be in. I liked hearing your account-a real life account after all of the medical articles I’ve read. I return to doctor tomorrow to get my stitches removed-which I think is a little early….We’ll see! I also have my first physical therapy session tomorrow. The ice machine has been my best friend! I’ve been icing the majority of each day. It was a worthwhile purchase-my insurance wouldn’t cover. Sleep has been a challenge since I’m a stomach sleeper as well. I was hoping to go back to work on Jan. 8-but I’m not sure if that will be realistic.

    Reply
    • Hi Erika, I’m glad the op is behind you and I hope the stitches removal went well. You must have healed nice and quickly. Great tip about the ice machine. I’ll check that out and add it to my list of useful items. Hope the physio goes well and I feel your frustration with the sleeping. Only thing is – it really is so wonderful when you can return to your usual sleeping position. Good luck with the recovery.

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  8. Hi Jo!! (:

    Wow, I am 8 days post surgery, and I am SO BLESSED to have come across your article! Reading this has eased my mind in so many ways. I’m 17 years old, and I tore my ACL doing what I love most, playing soccer. I tore it right before my senior year high school soccer season too…what great timing right. (; Over the past few days I have been extremely upset with my progress, and I am mentally and physically tired of this whole recovery. With that said, I realize it’s barely been a week.. hehe. I definitely underestimated the duration of this recovery; however, in my defense it has been one long week. After surgery, I was in a lot of pain in my knee, which I of course treated by the pain meds I was given, but a few days passed and I started to feel a strange sore feeling in my calf. Long story short it turned out to be a blood clot, and I had to be in the hospital for two days. Granted… I’ve never had to stay in a hospital before. This was a huge ordeal.. I mean I had to pee in a bed pan, which was incredibly humiliating for a 17 year old about to go off to college.. but it could be worse right?! (; They even stuck me several times in an attempt to get an IV in before eventually putting in a picc line. Anyways, the hospital story is a long story, so I won’t bore you with all of that. We begged them to let me come back home since the main reason why I was there was because the doctor was 90% sure I had a pulmonary embolism(ew).. which I didn’t, thank the Lord. I’ve been home for a few days, and my knee has been doing a lot better; however, this morning I woke up and the back of my knee was giving me lots of trouble. 🙁 It bothered me all day, and it’s really discouraging. I have full extension, flexion not so much. It really hurts to work on my flexion, so this worried me. I read on here though that other people are having the same exact problems!! I was left in the dark about how hard the recovery really is for sure! My main reason for commenting is to say that I am incredibly thankful for finding your article, and I look up to you for your recovery process!! I also love how you took the time out of your busy schedule to give a detailed response to everyone who commented on your post. (Which is a lot of comments!!) You truly want to help people, and I just wanted to thank you so much for giving me hope and making me feel so much better about the long road of recovery I have ahead of me! You are AWESOME!!! 😀

    Reply
    • Awww, thanks Aubyn. Sorry for the slow reply – as you noted there are a few comments on here and I will reply to every single one of them, though that can take some time 🙂 I’m so sorry to hear about your blood clot. As someone who went into surgery with varicose veins in her injured leg, I was terrified this would happen. I guess it goes to show that these things can’t be predicted. I’m glad you’re recovering from it. I’m also glad you’re finding this post useful – mainly through other people sharing their own experiences. I guess doctors reach a point where they only see things in medical black-and-white. I’m happy to have created a space where us humans can talk about the grey matter in between! I wish you a very speedy recovery (or at least as speedy as it can be in the circumstances).

      Reply
  9. I just had the ACL reconstruction (from hamstring) 4 days ago in Mumbai , and this post I thought gave me realistic expectations for recovery as I’m 39 as well with two kids under 5 and looking after them is really tough under the circumstances.

    My immediate goals are to be able to resume yoga as well as be able to carry my 1.5 year old ? who I haven’t picked up for a month since my injury.

    I have the staples on and yes hobbling to the washroom with a crutch is a pain but I got a fantastic tip from my surgeon on using cling film while showering- works like magic !!

    It’s early days yet and I’ll be re reading the post for motivation to be s committed to PT

    Reply
    • Hi Parvathy, not being able to carry your child must be heartbreaking. Just try to focus on the fact that recovery will happen. Sometimes it seems slow but gradually you’ll get there. I wish I’d had that clingfilm tip so thanks for sharing it here for others. Keep on with the physio!

      Reply
  10. Hi – thanks so much for posting your blog.

    I am a 48 year old female who loves recreational sailing, and like you I didn’t want to be limited or anxious about my knee in the future. So – I have had an ACL reconstruction, with medial and lateral meniscus repairs.

    I am now 10 days post op and have found your blog really helpful. There were minimal instructions from my surgeon /hospital except to weight bear as able using the crutches and to use the pain medications as needed / prescribed. I underestimated ++ how long the pain and swelling would go on for, and I underestimated how lovely ice would be and how often I would need to use it. Your post op experience is very similar to mine, and tracking your comments day to day has helped a lot.

    I used to be a physio (quite a few years ago now) and everyone assumes I will know what to expect, but to be honest it has been quite educational being on the patient side, and living with an injury / post surgery every day is quite different to the experience when giving therapy and knowing the theory vs the reality. Haven’t started physio treatment for my knee yet…..

    I will keep checking back to your blog as I progress – but thanks again for your honest account and hope you are travelling widely and confidently with your knee now.

    Reply
  11. I’m so pleased I came across your article that is so recent with others experience!?
    Today I’ve been having second thoughts on having my ACL reconstruction which is on Monday (27th November 2017)! Eeeek! I still feel that I might but if I tell you my story I’d be so appreciative of people’s options.
    I’m very active and always have been but feel as I get older I’m actually doing more (I’m 37) because I love how being fit and healthy makes me feel.
    I originally thought I’d dislocated my knee in March 2016 playing hockey. To me it seemed a freak incident, I’ve been playing hockey since a teenager. All that happened was, I jumped and when I landed my knee slid out of place back in again. After an MRI it showed a ‘slight’ tear in the ACL. Obviously, my questions were how long is rehab, when can I drive and can I play hockey again? So I worked on strengthening the quads and did lots of spinning then weight training.
    I didn’t get back to hockey for the start of 2016 season but thought I’m not rushing this I’ll do it properly and aim for after Christmas.
    I went training and things felt good, more a physiological barrier. Played one match fine, although I knew I was holding back, I was scared, scared of sprinting and then having to stop that’s where I felt most vulnerable.
    Then in May 2017 during my 2nd 7 aside hockey match it happened again! This time I heard a tear but I was able to hobble of the pitch iced it then drove home, I was gutted that it had happened again.
    So, a complete rupture showed on the MRI (not sure about the meniscus which they’ll look at when they’re inside). I have worked to strengthen my quads for the last 16 weeks after being advised that the more you do to strengthen now will help with recovery after the op. I have ran 5k 3 times this month the first was a struggle, my goal as always was not to walk. It was tough, the pain was on the outside of the knee which shot across to the inside of my calf to my ankle making it feel like it was seizing up and caused me to limp run.
    The last 2 runs have been easier, the discomfort sets in later so I’m thinking there is progress, running down hill makes me nervous, I have to concentrate on where I’m putting my foot.
    I’m still not playing hockey at the level I was as I’m still afraid of my knee giving out when it comes to stopping after a sprint.
    I suppose the question I’m asking is, is an ACL reconstruction going to be worth it?
    Thanks in advance.
    Sorry for the massive read.

    Reply
    • Hi Kerry, hope you don’t mind me jumping in here? I did mine playing hockey too (placed my foot to change direction but didn’t get as far as twisting before it went) and I tried to return on ‘conservative treatment’ (i.e. Physio and strengthening) but Hockey is not a good sport to play without your ACL as there’s so much twisting and turning – it soon gave way on me and caused even more damage. Like you say, you’ll always be holding back, trying not to hurt it. And then one day, you probably will hurt it! I’m impressed you’ve been doing so much running – straight lines are easier! I lost cartilage as well so running was painful. I’m 35 and had my ACL reconstruction 8 weeks ago – hoping to return to Hockey for the start of the 17/18 season (but I have missed nearly two whole seasons with a long wait for my op so will have to see what level I manage to get back to ?)
      I’d recommend having it done if you want to play hockey ‘properly’ again but be ready for a long recovery. Good luck!
      Janet

      Reply
    • Hi Kerry
      I just snapped my ACL and partial dear of PCL n meniscus. Have deferred my surgery which was suppose to happen today after seeking second opinion and treatment from TCM. I was advised against surgery.
      May I know if you eventually went ahead with the surgery and what your advice would be based on your experience.

      Thank you

      Reply
  12. Hi Jo. I just wanted to check back – I am at 10 weeks post surgery and just want to share with everyone to hang in there, as you say — it will get better. For me, I was definitely comparing my progress to others at physio, many whom are very athletic / active and 15-20 years younger than I am. For me, I saw tremendous progress at the 7 week mark. Prior to that I was very discouraged. At 7 weeks I was finally able to cycle and get a rotation on the bike. It took about 3 minutes of rocking just to accomplish. I am still not able to swim for exercise. Esp not breast. The one thing I would highly recommend is to focus on getting full extension of the surgery leg to match the other. I take time to let it hang below the knee with weights. Bending and quad strength will come more naturally I n my view. But I believe extension has a more limited window to achieve and to avoid any future limp / gait issues

    Reply
  13. Thanks so much for your story! I’m an equestrienne facing ACL and meniscus surgery in a few weeks, and dreading the down time. I also tend to blow up when not exercising regularly, but it sounds like you were able to start burning calories relatively soon Yay! I hope mine goes as well.

    Reply
    • Hi Kim, tried to embrace the downtime because – let’s be honest – you don’t have a choice 🙂 stock up on some favourite books or have a Netflix binge. I was also worried about weight increase but you’s be surprised how much energy you burn doing simple things like walking to the bathroom! I also found that having a regular physio routine encouraged me to be more active. Good luck with the surgery and recovery!

      Reply
  14. Hello my name is Alejandro and I had my ACL and Meniscus operated on about 5 months ago. I feel like I’m not getting better as fast as others. I still can not run or jump. I can’t walk for more than 3 or 4 hours. When I try to stand on my heels it hurts big time on my knee. Also sometmes depending on how I move around my knee gives out. It feels like it’s dislocated bu then it starts feeling normal again. I have been doing rehab but more machines at the gym. It just seems like my knee should be stronger and more stable than it is. I’m 44 years old male and active (normally more active). Any advice?

    Reply
    • Hi Alejandro, try not to worry. I wasn’t doing much by way of running or jumping at month five. I was probably just getting to that stage so try to be patient. Being on your feet for hours at a time is tiring even pre-surgery so give yourself time to build up to longer walks. Speak to your doctor if you’re getting pain. Mind felt like it wasn’t quite right for a long time and still sometimes feels like something has gone wrong but all of the x-rays and reviews tell me otherwise. However, if it’s worrying you, get it checked out. Unfortunately, it just takes time. Try to focus on small incremental changes and improvements rather than the overall picture of how your knee is postsurgery compared to presurgery. Keep doing the exercises but don’t push yourself too hard in case you make things worse. I hope that helps?

      Reply
  15. Thanks so much for sharing your story – I am referring back to it almost daily and have been for ages (in prep for my op and post-op recovery!)
    I had mine on the NHS three week’s ago yesterday and my experience has been different to yours again so wanted to also share it here in case any one else doesn’t experience what they are expecting! This had initially freaked me out as I had prepared for what you had shared and then thought they must be doing things wrong!
    I tore my ACL playing hockey in September last year but hadn’t realised the severity of the damage and returned to Hockey in December only to cause additional damage (torn meniscus and chunk of cartilage pulled off). Had my MRI in January to confirm the extent of the damage, then developed a DVT (they think due to the severe swelling, eek!) so they were messing about deciding when they could safely operate on me (I was taking Apixaban which the surgeon wasn’t happy about for my op!) They then cancelled my original date of the 21st Sept and eventually I got in on the 23rd Oct.
    I was in first (8.30am) on the day of the op – they didn’t put me on that knee bending machine afterwards (in fact the physio at the hospital straight after my op was a bit rubbish!) I was at home by 5pm that day.
    I did have my first NHS physio a week after the op but my quad muscle would not engage with the knee at all, it was completely asleep! I also paid to see a private physio and they managed to wake the muscle up with some electric pads (the type lazy people use on their stomach instead of doing sit ups, haha!) which helped no end but I felt like I was a week behind with my rehab.
    Once my quad woke up I was away with my exercises every two hours and making good progress. Because I had been unstable for a year, I had ‘developed’ my own special way of walking to minimise stress on the knee so am currently teaching myself how to walk properly, trying to be confident in the stability of my ‘new’ knee.
    As instructed at the hospital, I went for my ‘sutures’ removed 11 day’s post-op, turns out they just used paper steri-strips and no stitches, which was a shocker (and I could have pulled off myself at home!) Think it will be better for my scarring though.
    I used a Sainsbury’s shopping plastic bag and gaffer tape to keep my dressings dry when showering, which worked a treat! My dressings stayed perfectly dry and didn’t need changing once. I also had some fun getting in and out of the shower (shower over the bath!) as well.
    We also have insanely steep stairs at home so not sure when I’ll be able to walk up them one foot at a time.
    I need to start asking my physio for milestones to aim for as they have both been a bit vague and I’m not confident I’m where I should be yet.
    Anyway (that’s probably the longest comment you’ve had!) I just wanted to share some of my story to maybe help your readers understand that even on the NHS things can be very different (frustratingly!)

    Reply
    • Hi Janet, thanks for sharing this – it’s interesting to see how even within the NHS surgery can differ so broadly. I envy your steri strips – the staples were brutal. But I don’t envy your comatose quad. I’m glad it’s woken up (and I did laugh out loud at your description of the electric pads being used by lazy people on their stomachs… And I’ve also been a bit curious as to whether that works given I am, from time to time, a lazy person ;p) my stairs here are of the Victorian variety when, apparently people were a lot taller (?) and it took me a lot longer to get used to the stairs than anything else. So, don’t be put off if it takes a while. Do ask your physio for milestones. They definitely have this within the NHS. I hope you’re back to taking stairs two at a time very soon.

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  16. I’m incredibly impressed that you were off pain meds and crutches within a week. I’m 25 and had acl and meniscus surgery a month ago. The first few days were so painful i had to up my pain meds twice just to stop crying and be able to sleep. Also I’m a month post op and just am beginning to walk with the brace and 1 crutch with still a decent amount of pain. I found some comfort in your account of your recovery but was honestly hoping to hear it was more similar to mine since I’m worried about not being able to walk and the pain , etc. Hopefully i can get back to hiking and traveling soon too. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    • Hi Lauryn, don’t be dismayed by your recovery. Everybody recovers at a different rate. At the moment, I’m obsessing about those few things that I still can’t do (squat long periods of time and certain yoga poses) when I’m convinced that everybody else who had ACL surgery is back to 110% health. On the one hand, it’s good to compare notes but on the other it can be disheartening. Keep on with the exercises and I’m sure that in a years time, I’ll be envious of your 110% knee health 🙂 And on the plus side, at least the hardest part is now behind you.

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  17. Thanks for your post very interesting read, glad the recovery has been successful for you. I currently have had acl reconstruction before twice on both knees which i assume is a rareity. funnily enough I am being admitted to hospital to have acl revision next week, due to previous injury and meniscus rupture, as well very unstable knee so I can relate to you on the recovery time it’s slow, frustrating and painful time, but worth it long-term. good luck for the future Mike.

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    • Mike, I think you win the award for most amount of ACL surgeries… though I’m not sure that a medal you want to collect 🙂 I hope the upcoming surgery goes well and, yes I agree the surgery recovery is slow, frustrating and painful but worth it.

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  18. I’m on day 15 of my post op….and I feel like the biggest whiner in the world! Although all my bellyaching is justified so eff em!! =)
    I’m slowly succumbing to the idea of this whole shebang taking a year..
    What blows is that back in Aug/early Sept when I was advised what was wrong and that I’d need surgery to repair my ACL, I was also advised “oh 5-7 days you’ll be back on track…back to work, yadda yadda yadda….you’ll be good to go if you religiously ice, elevate, and do your exercises as told”—I SSOOO WISH I’D FOUND YOUR ARTICLE BEFORE I LET MYSELF GET SET ON THAT 5-7 DAYS!!!! I have no pto, no short term disability to use, and my 1 job is being a postal worker (like the 1 you were chasing down the stairs hahaha) and my 2nd job is walking endlessly about the concrete floors of a big hardware store helping fuggtards with a big painful smile as they can’t seem to grasp it’s a diy store…ugh!!!
    But I feel like a dick for telling and retelling my employers diff dates and expectations as I’m getting them myself! Now that it’s post op they immediately sing a diff tune…”oh you can walk can’t ya? Great. But you shouldn’t expect to walk well or any distance farther than your small arse lil house. Oh btw, here’s a damned note you can give to your employers letting them know how foolish you are for listening to us. Bahaha, now they’ll think you didn’t even research buttkiss about ACL surgery (not true I spent hours/ days researching and repeatedly asked them about that 5-7 day thing and what that means in relation to my life and work)
    Them cocksuckers is all I can say.
    But even a work from home position like yours poses quite a challenge…after 2 weeks of not checking ANYTHING online, last night I spent about 5 hours trying every stretch and position at that darn computer desk and I’m feelin it holmes…
    They already sent me to the hospital after my physical therapy a few days ago (physio you call it) b/c they thought I had a blood clot. Turns out I don’t…as of 3 days ago…but my poor calf, shin, good Lord the bruised and taunt, unable to relax calf muscle has had it with living! As a result (And I knew this would happen) my entire muscle and bones everywhere else is tired of picking up my left knee’s slack and now I’m really gettin butt hurt about all this mess. I just hope I can get out the other end of all this if nothing else than a better feeling knee that I had before the surgery…before it was injured at all..

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    • Hi Michelle, so sorry. For some reason this comment (in Nov 17) slipped past me so I’m only replying now (April 18). I’m sure you’ve made a lot of recovery since you left the comment but I’m posting it anyway so others can read your experience.

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  19. Hey Jo, I’m so glad I found your article! I’m currently debating having ACL surgery for a partial tear, but have gotten two very different opinions. An ortho I saw in the states while visiting home recommended surgery to fix a meniscus tear and to do an ACL replacement, but the ortho I saw in Denmark (where I currently live) thinks I don’t need any surgery at all. I am an avid runner and crossfit enthusiast and I’m a little skeptical that I will be able to return to these activities without a replacement. It’s been 2.5 months since the accident and it still feels pretty weak.

    If I did have surgery it would be in the states, and I would need to make a transatlantic flight back to Denmark at about 2 to 2.5 weeks post op. Having had the surgery, do you think this is something you could have done at that stage of recovery? Or would you knee have still been too stiff? Just trying to sort out my options.

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    • Hi Sophia, it’s so frustrating when you get conflicting advice from doctors – I had the same thing. In the end it was a physiotherapist who talked me through the details and helped me decide. I do find it interesting that surgery has been suggested for a partial tear. At the same time that I fully tore my ACL, I partially tore my MCL (ligament on the inside of my knee) and it was never suggested that I would have surgery for that. It may be that surgery for MCL repair is less common/not as essential but my understanding is that with a partial tear, your ligament heals back with scar tissue, which has the effect of giving you extra stability. With a partial tear, I would really look into this and see if there is non-invasive option that involves just time and strengthening of your knee. While I’m very pro-ACL surgery if you have a complete tear, I’m not convinced I would have had surgery for a partial. I would at least have given it a year to see if I could get the strength back without the scalpels. Over a year after my surgery, it’s not as good or as strong as it was before my injury so I’d keep that in mind if you’re thinking the ACL surgery will be a complete fix.

      In terms of the flight, I don’t believe I would have been comfortable sitting in a cramped space without elevating my leg for a transatlantic journey. I would also have been worried about DVT. I’m not trying to put you off both the options of surgery or the flight, but that’s my honest opinion. Your doctor will be able to advise the medical basis but if it were me, I try knee strengthening before surgery and if I did have surgery I’d either upgrade to business for the flight or take longer before my return. I hope that helps even if it’s not the answer you were hoping for.

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  20. Hi jo I found ( and my still finding On re reading the stages when I get there). very interesting and helpful. I am today 5 weeks post op having an acl with hand string graft and cartilage removal and I too even now am upset about the size of the scar. The amount of tiredness I felt in the first four weeks was unexpected but this’ll has now got slight better. I stopped the codiene from week two apart from at bedtime and now I just have one ibuprofen each morning. I am hoping to return to work after six weeks but need to drive so I am hoping this will be ok. I wanted to ask you about wearing high heeled shoes when did you find you could do this? Also swimming. I have a physio protocol but it jumps from 4-6 weeks to 6-12 weeks just wondered if you did any. ( I only swim breast stroke) . Lastly I have noticed that my big scar is hard to touch was yours like this.

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    • Hi Donna, I’m glad you found my article helpful and that your recovery seems to be going well. Driving was a bit scary but only for the first five minutes. After that, it was a relief to be able to get rouns on four wheels instead of one and a half legs! I’m probably not the best person to ask about high heels because I wore flats most of the time pre-surgery. Over a year on, I’m still nervous about having any height to my shoes. I’ve worn tiny kitten heels for special occasions and felt absolutely fine but when I tried to put on anything more than any, I felt unstable. But, as I say, I wasn’t much of a heel wearer before. I’d suggest speaking to your physio. I’m also not a fan of indoor swimming pools so I didn’t do any swimming in the early stages. However, after three months I went to Asia where I swam in the ocean, which is a bit more challenging because of the sand on the ocean floor and the tide, and although I was nervous, it turned out to be fine. Again, speak to your physio but I think the advice is that swimming is okay but just avoid the breaststroke at first. That said, I’m not sure what stage swimming is okay from so check the dates. And yes, my scar was hard to touch – I believe this is quite normal because it scar tissue and over time it will soften. If you can cope with it, after a few months, I’d recommend getting some massage on it. Hope that helps. Let me know how you get on with the heel wearing. It might inspire me to get back into something a little more feminine than my Birkenstocks and boots 🙂

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