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. Thanks for your blog! Its reassuring to read someones account of the surgery and aftermath! I’m due to have mine done next week, i’ll have lots of help once at home, for 2/3 weeks, but am nervous of how i’ll manage a household of two dogs and two young boys once everyone’s back to their own lives! It’s the little things like when will i be able to vacuum again!

    Reply
    • Hi Samantha, I hope the surgery went well. I also hope you’re getting enough recovery time – sounds like you have a very busy household. Personally, I’d use it as an excuse to ditch the vacuuming for a while ;p Otherwise, if you have a bit of spare cash, why not treat yourself to a cleaning service for a few weeks? Best of luck with the recovery.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this.
    I had surgery 1 week ago. I’m 32 completely tore acl skiing 2 months ago.
    Had hamstring graft, no meniscus or other injuries. On nhs. Home the same day. Had a block and GA so once the block wore off once painful.
    I expected it to be painful but didn’t realize how exhausted I would feel.
    Took painkillers 6hrly for 3-4 days now and had a week of anti inflammatories which have helped.
    I have surprisingly little bruising. Swelling has gone down a lot.
    I am able to walk around my flat without crutches and have been out a few times. Yesterday I took one crutch as I don’t feel I need 2.
    I haven’t achieved full extension but hoping soon. I have physio tomorrow so will see what they say.

    It seems like it’s a really long recovery process. Thank god for Netflix.

    Reply
    • Sounds like your recovery is on great track. Yes, it is a long recovery but absolutely worth it. Good luck with the physio! And yes, Netflix is a blessing when you’re laid up!

      Reply
      • I am just over 12 months having my acl reconstruction done plus the surgeon removed 60% of my meniscus, my knee is very stable and strong but do you feel more pain then you did before? My knee feels very strong and I haven’t held back on anything now I can run a 5-10 km run easily but I seem to have more consistent pain/stiffness that I did before I am just curious of how this relates to your experience???

        Reply
        • Hi Mike, I’m impressed you’re running your 10ks. I’ve not been able to push past 5k (but that’s general lack of fitness at the moment I think). I do have more knee pain than before. I think it’s just part of the injury but I’d still recommend getting it check out just to be sure. Presume you’re doing a decent warm up and have good running shoes?

          Reply
          • Hi,

            Great information and appreciate you replying almost all comments too.

            What shall be good running shoes ? How to rightly select them.

            My son got ACL torn 100% last March’18. We identified now only. Due to his school, can plan surgery next May’19 as then he may get 3 months for rehab at home. In winter only 3 weeks off, can not imagine pain recovery in 2 weeks time reading such info, though doctor claims patient can start walking in few days and then staying in hostel.

            He has some pain all the time but was going around in his school and use stairs too. Though at times complain for some sudden knee instability even post exercise. Cycling is suggested but not knee braces, doubting hamstring may become week. Cycling further told better only in gym to avoid any Indian potholes or sudden even while cycling on road.

            But doctor create fear about other ligaments tears like PCL bucking, medial tear which may arise arthritis.

          • Hi Nalin, I bought a new pair of running shoes after my surgery, mainly because my old ones had worn out. Before surgery I was a runner for years and have for a long time bought my running shoes from a shop that assesses your run on a treadmill before recommending a particular type of shoe (I used to pronate – bend my foot in, which cause problems – but have since corrected this). It sounds expensive but I often get the advice on the style of shoe and then ask to buy last season’s stock (I don’t care about running shoe fashion) which does the job so long as it has the right amount of cushioning/fit for me. Otherwise, if that kind of service isn’t available, I’d go for a good brand with good grip on the soles, cushioning and support. My favourite brands are Asics and New Balance. I’d avoid anything designed for fashion rather than exercise also, get a rubber not plastic sole. I picked up my last pair of Asics for around $50 on Amazon. I have a friend who is a runner and takes good care of her shoes, ‘refubishes them’ after not very long and sells them on eBay. I’ve written about shoes on the site if you’re interested.

            Your son may well recover quicker than most due to his age but rehab on a bike at the gym is good advice for the reason your doctor gave. I believe it’s also common for doctors to tell you that you (your son) will get arthritis. I was told the same thing so I did some research and, while it is true that your son may get pain and stiffness as he gets older, due to the injury, this is quite common anyway, due to ageing. The most common treatment for arthritis is diet, exercise, posture and taking care of your joints. You might find this helpful:

            Some doctors do have an ability to create fear and it’s amazing how two doctors can set explain the same thing in two very different ways. I’m sure your son will be fine and recovering in no time. I wish him luck.

    • Dear Jo

      your blog is really interesting, I love the photos too. Well done Lauren, I hope you continue to make a good recovery.I tore my ACL, MCL, meniscus tear and tibial plateau (small fracture) on my right knee at the end of a ski trip mid-March. A&E put me in a Thackery splint until I saw a Consultant 2 weeks after the accident, who confirmed fracture on MRI and put me in a fixed knee brace at 90 degrees for another 3 weeks. At my 2nd Consultant review (around 16 days ago) I was told I could weight bear as tolerated and wait for Physio referral. I stopped using crutches about 10 days ago. I’m doing okay, still swollen about 25-30% and ankle swells if I overuse, I am walking quite badly at times and seem to drag my good leg unless I really concentrate on my gait, I’m also pulling myself up the stairs on the banister as I can’t bend my right knee completely and I have to swing it out to the side. I have paid out for some physio sessions myself but starting NHS physio tomorrow. My issue is that during my first Consultant appointment he told me once the swelling is reduced he would probably operate to remove loose cartilage and then think about doing ACL. At my second appointment (2 weeks ago) he seemed to change his mind and said (after poking it a bit and getting me to raise my leg) if it wasn’t painful then he wouldn’t operate as sometimes it’s best to leave the cartilage alone. However, since then it is very painful at night and locks up a lot, at times really scary and makes me panic as it feels like it’s going to snap, I’ve read this is due to meniscus getting in the way of knee mechanics. I am a bit concerned I am going to be fobbed off without any surgery. I am actually an A&E Bank Nurse and also work in General Practice, so obviously on my feet all day for work. I am pretty fit, but 2 months post accident and a lot of time on the sofa and some days I feel exhausted and want to know if anyone else had difficulty getting surgery or a 2nd opinion. I never realised how debilitating this accident is and I don’t want to live my life in fear of my leg giving way or going on long walks again etc. I am also on Statutory Sick pay (as I’ve been in my new job under a year) so I have to get back to work part time at least. Although I work in the NHS this is the first time I’ve experienced things as a patient and so any help is gratefully appreciated. Thank you

      Reply
      • Hi Louisa, what a horrible experience. I’d definitely push back with your surgeon. Locking knees are not safe and are usually one of the factors that surgeons look at to determine surgery (or so I understand). If the surgeon doesn’t agree you need surgery, I’d recommend asking for a 2nd opinion. As you’re a nurse, perhaps speak to one of the doctors you know from work and see what your ‘escalation’ options are. At the end of the day, its your health so I would certainly make some noise until either you get the surgery you want or have your mind put at rest that it’s not needed. Good luck.

        Reply
  3. Just had Acl reconstruction 2weeks ago, still a little pain, but I’m able to go up and down stairs without crutches and able to go full extention, and I’m a to sit on my knees with my ankle almost touching my butt, but I started walking with brace same day of operation and made sure I walked and rested every day post op, and did my post exercises so my leg did not go stiff. I think the key is make sure you’re moving despite the pain, but also don’t forget to rest.

    Reply
  4. Hi, my 15 year old daughter has torn her ACL playing football. I have read all your advice regarding your operations and it has been very useful. I am currently researching surgeons and I’m trying to find one in the UK working for the NHS who has good experience of carrying out this procedure. Has anyone got any names of surgeons they would recommend ?

    Also did anyone have a quad graft in the UK ?

    Any information would be great.

    Reply
    • Hi Danielle, I replied to you personally with details of my surgeon and my experience. I wish your daughter speedy recovery.

      Reply
  5. To hyperextend or not to hyperextend that is the question… I keep reading contradictory things about this. The US physiotherapy sites I have come across tend to say that you have to aggressively go after hyperextension in the first couple of weeks post op, or you will have trouble attaining it at all and that will have consequences in future years due to small differences in gait. My physiotherapist here in Portugal has assured me that it comes slowly, that I absolutely shouldn’t force it as that can also be damaging. Does anyone have any experience of this? How late did you attain hyperextension and if you didn’t manage it, if you only managed full extension how big of a problem was that?
    Otherwise I am 3 weeks post op and things are going relatively smoothly. One thing I wanted to add here just in case anyone else has had the same experience, my periods got quite off whack after the operation. I am normally clockwork regular, but the blood thinning injections I took to prevent blood clots (how I hated those, especially as I had to do them myself!) meant that I got my period the day after the operation and two weeks early, plus it was heavier than normal. This was very inconvenient to be dealing with directly after the operation and it also scared me at first as I wasn’t sure why I was bleeding. Just writing it here in case that is useful to know for someone, although obviously get it checked if you have the same experience!

    Good Luck everyone! This has been incredibly useful and reassuring to blog, thanks for creating it, Jo.

    Reply
    • Hi Sophía, I had a similar conundrum or rather I thought I did until it came down to it. I also have hyper-mobility meaning that I overextend my knees but I found that during those early days it was all I could do to get my knee straight let alone hyper extend. I also read that you needed to pursue it aggressively in the first weeks but as well as sheer physical inability, I was terrified of doing more harm than good – In some ways I traded off hypermobility for not popping my graft. My physio did advise that I may not get full hyperextension back and now when I run I do have pain in my opposing hip which makes me worried that I will have knock-on problems (I really should speak to another physio about this). However, I would say that after those first weeks it wasn’t a case of all or no hyperextension – my ability to hyper extend got better over time and I still have some hope that it will continue to improve (if only I set about getting to the gym to do some more weights). I hope that helps. I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

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  6. Hi Jo,
    Was going through your post it is really helpful and given day by day progress and idea about whole plot of ACL reconstruction. My ACL got teared when I was in Leave in my country Nepal. Injured on bike accident. Came back Dubai on plaster once they removed the plaster Dr. Said to scan through MRI and found ACL tears on left knee. So many confusion and doubt before doing opt. Finally I did opt on September 2017. I wasn’t able to give much time for physiotherapy even though doing cycle walking and sweeming. Now there is no issue for walking in surface area for even couple of kilometers.but still I can’t climb the stair steps. It has been more than 6 month is it normal or need to be worried? You mentioned Yoga is helpfull could u please share which yoga is this and how do I do it?

    Reply
    • Hi Santosh, I’m no expert but it sounds to me that because you didn’t do many bending exercises at the beginning, you might be having trouble with range of motion and therefore stairs. Before jumping into a strenuous yoga routine, I’d recommend going over the original physiotherapy exercises that were designed for you to get your knee moving. Yoga is a tricky one. Although I do it now, I made sure I did my physio exercises first to make sure I didn’t do any damage. If you’re worried, I definitely recommend going back to see a physiotherapist. Good luck.

      Reply
  7. Wow, this post is amazing Jo!
    I’m an 18 year old facing ACL reconstruction and bucket handle meniscus tear repair in 4 days and this is exactly what I needed to read! After initially injuring my ACL (only partial tear) in 2016 playing hockey, my physio and orthopaedic surgeon recommended recovering without surgery. That was going fine until Dec 21 2017 when my knee went again (damn hockey) and this time I fully tore my ACL and also had a bucket handle meniscus tear (pain was excruciating, I was on crutches for a week afterwards). I went off to uni 2 months later (still currently limping 3 months from injury and unable to fully extend knee) and finally my insurance company has approved my surgery. I’m incredibly nervous (first surgery) but this post has made me feel much better, with some idea of what to expect. You’ve also inspired me to keep a journal of my recovery to hopefully not only distract myself but have something to reflect on and keep track of my progress, so thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Hi Hannah, I hope the surgery went well! In some ways, it sounds less painful to fully rupture your ACL than to have a few goes at ripping it apart. And love to read your journal of recovery if you ever a post online. If not, I hope that when you read it back you come to see how far you’ve travelled in your recovery. Good luck.

      Reply
    • I have the same issues as you. The initial injury was years ago but three weeks ago I got the bucket handle tear too. I’m not walking yet and it’s a bit worrying because most other people are walking much sooner than three weeks. The surgeon wasn’t helpful and had no answers for why I still can’t walk. I have almost full extention tho so that’s good.

      Will have surgery in the fall I think, I have to figure out a way to work for the summer because in Canada the surgery is covered but not psyo.
      Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
      • Hi Bobbie, the NHS has a lot of free physio tips if you can’t afford a physio over the long-term in Canada. I’ve linked to it in the comments above. Good luck.

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  8. It as hard to come by well-informed people on this subject, however, you sound like you know what you are talking about! Thanks

    Reply
  9. Hi Jo,
    My name is Andrea, I am 25.
    I have to do a knee surgery – ACL and meniscus. I read online that the recovery from the surgery takes 3-6 months. The thing is, before my accident happened, I was planning to take a trip to Asia in September. My question is, if I make the surgery in May, will I be able to recover until September? I would avoid hikes and will include more leisure walking routes. I know this is kind of individual thing, but I’m trying to collect more opinions on the topic..
    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Hi Andrea, I was in a very similar situation. I had my surgery on 30 September and had a trip booked to Asia on 7 January. So, about the same amount of time you have between your surgery and your trip. For me, it was overall fine. I can’t explain the exhaustion in the early days because I was sightseeing at a pace that far surpassed the walking levels I’d been doing during my recovery. However, within a week or two I felt much better for it. I was extra careful on sand and avoided tricky hikes although I did manage one hike to some waterfalls which had my heart in my mouth the whole time but turned out to be a success. Unexpected benefits: the sun worked wonders, easing my joints and I took advantage of a lot of Thai massage which really seem to help. I’d just make sure you tell your travel insurance company before you. They just put a small notation on your file and that way you’re covered if something does happen. I had insurance through my bank and there was no additional fee for me to pay because apparently ACL is quite standard. Hope you an amazing trip. I have some post about Asia on the site if you’re interested.

      Reply
  10. Your article helped me understand how recovery would be from a real perspective and not from the medical stand point so thank you 🙂
    and now here is my story:
    In April 2016 I completely tore my ACL from simply landing on my knee too straight while in a twisting position. (I climbed over the rail on a sidewalk and jumped down, the jump was maybe like a 2 foot drop) when I landed I heard the classic sounds and felt immediate pain, it was so bad and I was so scared I almost went into shock. I was taken to get x rays, and they came back clean, so then I was just given pain killers and told it was “just a sprain”

    Because the pain and swelling weren’t going down and I couldn’t bare any weight on my knee, my doctor referred me to a knee specialist. it took 3 months to get in to see the specialist and by then I could walk again but it was still painful, slightly swollen and unstable. The specialist only had to do some movements with my knee and he said he was sure it was a full ACL tear because apparently my ACL wasn’t working from what he felt. he sent me for an urgent MRI, and it came back confirming the full ACL tear and apparently a possible meniscus tear.
    yup totally “just a sprain” -_-
    so then I was put on the waiting list for surgery. I chose the surgery because I’m only 17 (was 15 at the time) and I was active and did not want to have to be restricted. and now 2 years later and FINALLY I received a surgery date of April 30th, 2018.
    Unfortunately, during those 2 years, due to my restricted ability to do sports and such I developed health problems. I gained weight and became insulin resistant, got an “irritated” liver, got PCOS from the weight gain (now I’m basically infertile unless the hormones correct themselves) and developed major depressive disorder. even tho I had those my surgery was not put on higher priority and I have waited 2 years.
    but now I am just happy that I have a surgery date of April 30th, hopefully the other problems will correct themselves after I can lose weight when my knee has healed after the recovery (that’s what the endocrinologist said).

    Reply
  11. Thanks so much for writing an honest, open post about ACL surgery. I found it very helpful. Everything else you find is all of these young athletic guys saying “oh you’re exaggerating, I had ACL done with no pain and walked out of the hospital.” I had my surgery two weeks ago and it was excruciating. I’m apparently a rare case that doesn’t respond to opiates, nor did my body respond to the nerve block. I got an allergic rash to it and could feel about 80% of all the pain. So for the first week I was completely bedridden, fainted four times from the pain. Now that the pain naturally decreased I’m alright and rehabbing well already, but it was scary for a while there. Your post really helped me see the range of possibilities with ACL surgery and some great tips on what to expect and where to work hard. Thanks!

    Reply
    • That’s all I still hear from people – how easy ACL surgery was. I wonder how many people are actually telling the truth (apart from the people in here)! sounds like you had a horrible time with your pain medication but I’m glad that’s behind you. Good luck with the recovery!

      Reply
  12. Hi.
    I am 53 years young and had my ACL reconstructed 7 days ago under workcoverqld, Australia. Things you want to have/get before the op are as follows:
    1) Shower chair. I didn’t have one, slipped in the shower when I got home and obviously straight back to hospital via ambulance. Luckily no serious damage done. The pain was incruciating and I don’t wish that on anyone.
    2) Non slip shower mat. For same reason as 1)
    3) Roll of Gladwrap for wrapping op site while showering.
    4) Ice machine for icing op site. This machine is a 100 times better than trying to ice with ice cubes and a bag. I can send pics if needed.
    5) Crutches. You will need them at some stage.
    6) Waterproof dressing strips. Very handy if dressings need changing for some reason. Mine are easy as I don’t have stitches/staples. Incisions are held together with Steristrips.
    I’m going for my 1st post op assessment next week. Been doing all my physio excercises regularly, icing at least 3hrs a day and things seem to be slowly moving along.
    I think I may start weaning off the strong pain meds as they do make me feel queasy and drowsy thus making me want to sleep all day. I want to try and avoid this.
    I seem to have full extension on my knee, without to much pain. It does stiffen up if I don’t do the excercises regularly. Bending on the contrary is currently very stiff and I’m probably managing about a 100° bend with a fair bit of discomfort. Hopefully this will get better over time. My wife keeps telling me that I’m expecting to much as it’s only a week post op.
    I suppose the hardest part of this op is the slow healing process.
    Anyway hopefully this helps anyone that is going for this op. Always remember “Slow and steady”. That way you should get full use of your knee back.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the tips Peter – ouch on the shower fall. Glad it wasn’t more serious. Good luck with your post op appointment and the rest of your recovery. Yes, it is slow, but we all get there eventually!

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  13. Hi all!

    Jo – you incredible human being, thanks for creating the space for post ACL surgery concerns, comments and tips. I’ve just had my surgery 6 weeks ago and as you mention, not sure where all that time has gone!

    Some really helpful tips I found worked for me:
    1. Make everyday count, even if small progress, move toes, ankle, shoulders, head etc! shake it up!
    2. Get off pain meds within the first week, in my case it turned my stomach really easily and made it hard to gain my appetite back
    3. Think of therapy as fun gym time! Initially I dreaded the brace and how slowwww I was moving
    3. I’m taking 2-3 months off from work, while researching different projects that are more fun and motivating. It became really hard to get back to my old desk job knowing what was ahead and understanding this will take up to 10-12 months
    4. Listen to music! make your surrounding space cozy to fit your needs so normal chores don’t seem so hard to accomplish
    5. Talk to people openly about how you are feeling as your progress, I know it’s hard to relate sometimes but write and write as much as you need to!
    6. When not able to sleep, try different breathing techniques
    …. among others 🙂

    Where I’m at now at 6 weeks I think is very well on track. I’ve reached about 135 on my bend and *almost* full extension. My other leg is a bit hyper extended which gives me the reference point. Finding a balance has been key, before my surgery I went on a one year journey through South East Asia and South America, so I love your traveling adventures! In the meantime, I was working on my own projects and rehabbing my knee to see if it could bounce back to normal. I had a partially torn ACL, and that year gave me a clear direction of what to do next which was surgery after all. I’m having a hard time focusing on work right now haha, because I’ve been so dedicated to my recovery these past few days. I literally have just ignored several people. This is my concern lol. How would you recommend I continue to push this end of things? Thanks in advance and wish you continued wellness and fulfillment. Much love!!! <3

    Lenn

    Reply
    • Hi Lenn, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your tips – they’re really positive and helpful. I struggle to focus on work at the best of times let alone when I’m recovering from surgery, ha ha. I always find a list helps. I know that might sound really banal but writing something down, mentally committing to it and forcing myself to look at it daily until everything is checked off really helps me. Whether it’s so many repetitions of an exercise or a commitment to spend 30 minutes replying to emails or promising to meet up with friends getting something ticked off my list can often be a relief as well as having the benefit of having achieved whatever it is I wanted to achieve. I hope that helps and good luck with the recovery – it sounds like you are making great strides (no pun intended!)

      Reply
  14. Hello..I am 22 years old ..I had my surgery this Monday..it was really painful..I was having a complete tear in acl and a second grade partial tear in mcl..doctors advised mee to do excercise pre operation ..they said mcl can heal on its own..I got injured on6 January 18..now after a month I went for surgery only of acl..I really don’t like bed rest i kept on playing everytime now I have to be on bed as I don’t have any other way out..after operation doctors told mee I have in mcl second grade over ltc what does this mean can you tell?? I should not worry about my mcl?? Should I place a pillow under my knee or foot?? Any advise? The swelling has gone to my ankle I cannot see my left ankle..

    Reply
    • Hi Aakash, if you’re worried about the swelling on your ankle, I’d recommend seeing your doctor. In the meantime, try elevation and ice packs. If you’re not long after surgery, you should probably support the back of your knee while you raise it. Using a pillow or two lengthways might work depending on how tall you are! I also had a grade 2 tear in my MCL and they didn’t operate. The way it was explained to me – imagine your ligament as if it is three fingers wide. A grade one tear is as though one finger has been ripped in two, a grade 2 tear is as though two fingers have been ripped in two and a grade three tear is complete detachment/the whole ligament is torn into two. I understand that usually surgery only happens for complete detachment. I believe this is because in grade 1 and grade 2 tears the ligament can heal itself, usually with some scar tissue that adds some strength to what is left of your ligament. I say all this as a non-qualified, non-doctor so do get some medical advice but that’s how it was explained to me. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  15. Hi Jo
    My name is Catalina, I am 4 years post ACL reconstruction. I tore it in a kick boxing class…It was not painful at the moment it happened and unbeknownst to me, I tore all the ligaments minus a partial tear in my PCL..that is unrepairable due to its closeness to the nerve.
    I still swell and feel the clicking and if Im in yoga class and on my knee..there is pain.
    There is also an area midline front shin left side that is hypersensitive. Not sure if you have the same sensation?
    Your blog is fantastic…and very helpful..if I may I would like to share it on instagram with the ACL followers?
    Happy travels Jo?

    Kindly,
    Catalina

    Reply
    • Hi Catalina, apologies – another comment that slipped past me! Please do feel free to share on your instagram. I don’t have the shin problem but I do have clicking. Lots of clicking. Though I have just kind of gotten used to it.

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  16. Hi Jo, thanks so much for your article! It’s so great being able to compare where I am up to with my recovery! I am 20 and tore my acl in late November playing futsal (which is super annoying as I just play that in the off-season for soccer in order to keep fit and have some fun) and tomorrow is my 1 month surgery anniversary! I am doing okay but the hardest thing is not being able to play sport! I have played for my club for so long now that I’m super involved and still am going to every training session and game (I have become offical team manager/assistant coach) but I am struggling with the mental side of not being able to play, as this is my first year without it since I was 6.. other than that I am proud of my recovery. Currently doing 10 minutes on the bike at a time and some small squats and calf raises. I can bend my knee further than expected but at my last check ups with the surgeon and physio I was told my knee wasn’t straight enough so I’m really trying to focus on that before I go back to the physio in 2 days. Super first world problem scenario but I wish I could wear heels 🙁 also I start my first shift back at work this week – only 3 hours but that’s 3 hours of walking around and standing, so I’m a bit nervous for that. That’s basically it for me but once again thanks so much for your article! It’s so nice reading from someone who has experienced the same as me and especially being honest about the negative sides of it so I don’t feel so alone when I’m down!

    Reply
    • Hi Nina, I’m pleased my article helped. I’m happy to report that I’m now back on heels and, to be honest, I could have got back on them a lot sooner than I thought – it was only confidence that stopped me. (Though do get the all clear from your doctor before you throw on the 6 inch platforms!) I completely understand where you’re coming from missing out on sport – for me it was yoga, which I use not just for exercise but also mental calm and for decompressing after work and travel. Once I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen for a while, I gave myself a future date and decided I wasn’t going to think about it until that date, and things were mentally easier. I just made sure I filled the time with other things e.g. walking, reading, upper body exercises and eating cake! Good luck with the recovery.

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  17. I am so so glad to have come across this fantastic blog. I’ve read through almost all of the comments and replies and feel so much better.
    I took a tumble skiing (at an indoor slope!) on the 7th Jan 2018 and felt a horrendous snap crackle and pop in my knee. Having never ‘hurt’ myself before, I instantly knew something wasnt right and quickly learned the noises I make when I’m in pain are rather perculiar!
    Anyway, to the juicy stuff… after a long three week wait in a straight leg splint, completely non weight bearing, a painful consultant appointment, a new brace (bionic woman eat your heart out) and an ‘urgent’ MRI scan, I managed to get some results (from my NHS GP in the end) about what’s left inside my knee.
    My ACL has detached from my femur, I’ve completely ruptured my MCL and I’ve got grade 2-3 damage on my PCL…( I was weirdly relieved that I’d done a good job because I was becoming paranoid that I was actually a huge dramatic wimp about trying to weight bear and bend my knee- when in reality there wasn’t a lot left to let it bend anyway!)
    So right now, I’m still 2 weeks away from my next consultant appointment- he doesn’t even know I know the results of my MRI scan… I’m terrified I’m not going to get an operation for months, I’m desperate for them to take my recovery seriously because I hope to return to my crazy addictive gym and running lifestyle and quite frankly I’m absolute fed up of sitting here not really knowing if I should or shouldn’t be doing anything to aid my recovery even pre-op!
    Reading about your recovery from the ACL surgery alone has given me hope that by my holiday in July I may well be able to walk like a normal human and may have perhaps even got back in the gym… that’s all providing the nhs get a shuffle on with fixing me!
    thankyou all!

    Reply
    • ‘ I was weirdly relieved that I’d done a good job ‘ Ha ha ha – that really did make me laugh. Although ACL repair is not generally a laughing matter and I feel your pain. I hope for your sake that the NHS does give you an early operation date and if you keep up with the physio, I’m sure you will be back to your gym routine soon enough. Recovery does take time but it does happen eventually. Good luck.

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  18. Hey Jo,

    nice to hear about your recovery! im also a year past surgery now, and suddenly (ok after a month of no fysio which i’ve done 2-3times a week for a year) my knee starts to hurt again.. do you have similar experiences? Maybe it was caused by climbing.. not sure. also the healthy knee irritates me after running 10+k yet the operated one functioned fine :’) this really had me surprised! but im sure you can get there too!

    x

    Reply
    • Hi Liz, yes – I’m afraid I do still get pain from time to time although nothing extreme. If you’re worried, I’d recommend going back to your doctor. I’ve come to accept that my knee will just not be the same as it was before. Still, it does feel like it’s continually getting better rather than worse. Good luck with the fitness challenges.

      Reply

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