I wasn’t prepared for my ACL surgery. I wish I’d done more research about the recovery process, the physio required and even the practicalities of how to get around a 3-floor triplex apartment on crutches. But the thing was, there wasn’t much out there beyond the usual medical, anatomical articles telling me which bit of the inside of my knee would be fiddled with.
So, a few months post recovery, I started to write about my surgery. That one post developed into a series. In this post, I’ll share with you the gadgets that helped my recovery. Whether you’re looking for a useful gift for a friend or family member (hint: chocolates are nice but can come with guilt when you’re inactive) or preparing for your own surgery, here’s the products I found most useful.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a list of expensive gym equipment. Some of the items cost just a few pounds/dollars. If you’ve had ACL done and have any other recovery gadgets to recommend, let me know in the comments below.
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 Repair – Timeline of My Recovery (With Pictures)
- ACL Recovery – 15 Things I Would Have Done Differently
This was by far the most practical thing I wish I’d thought of in advance. I used one to carry my stuff around the house (books, pain medication, ice pack, water) when my hands were busy with crutches or steadying me on stairs. Get a couple because when you come to use it, you’ll find you’ve left it in another room. Bonus, you might already have one lying around at home.
I particularly like how flexible this ice pack is, which allows it to bend around your knee and leg. It also doesn’t give you frost bite.
3. Knee sleeve
Nope, not for actual knee support but to hold the Therapearl ice pack in place without having to hold it, though you’ll want to wait until your incision is robust enough to cope with wriggling this on. I bought a basic one from a pharmacy and opted for a size larger than I’d need to fit in the ice pack. I also tried using an old pair of tights that I cut up but it didn’t work nearly as well. If you’re buying in advance, a velcro strap version will be much easier to handle/will be more gentle on your knee.
4. Ice machine
I didn’t personally use an ice machine but more than one person has commented how wonderful it was to have an ice machine and looking at it, I wish I’d had one for my recovery rather than fiddling with ice packs and sleeves to keep them in place.
5. Bio Oil
It’s hard to tell whether the bio-oil did the job of reducing my scarring but I can definitely tell you it did a great job relieving tightness around the scar and itchiness as the scar healed. Warning – I only used this once the wound had properly closed and I didn’t have my staples in anymore.
6. Elizabeth Arden 8-hour cream
I swear by this product for all minor skin irritations and after days of ripping large adhesive dressings off my leg, my skin was almost as pink and tender as the wound itself. Taking care to stick just to the skin not the wound, this cream was oh so soothing. Find it in your local pharmacy/beauty store.
I don’t know about you but I tend to use scented shower gels. When I first started to properly clean the area (rather than just letting water run over it), I didn’t want to irritate the wound. I bought some sensitive baby bath and shower gel so I had one less thing to worry about. I went for Aveeno but Dove is also good.
8. Gym ball
Physio is a chore so surrounding myself with a couple of at-home items, I was able to squeeze in quick exercises between formal physio sessions. The ball was great for squats against the wall and resting my leg on it to let gravity work on straightening my leg. The one above has a decent pump – the coiled looking pumps are next to impossible.
Cycling is highly recommended for strength and range of motion in the early weeks and, like with the gym ball, it was easy to fit in 5 minutes here and there while I watched TV or worked from home, rather than dragging myself to the gym. I opted for a small floor bike rather than a large upright bike because I didn’t want to commit the space or money to buying something larger knowing I’d use it only for my initial physio.
10. Resistance bands
If your physio or hospital doesn’t supply one of these, buy it online. Your physio routine will involve a fair bit of therband use and having one lying around can also encourgae at home use and swifter recovery. When I travelled for 3-months post op, my theraband came with me. Speak to your physio about which colours you should use. Make sure you get the bands that are longer like in the image above. The closed-loop style will limit the kinds of exercises you can do.
I was whingeing on about my tense legs when someone told me to research fascia release. I did and I can’t believe I hadn’t read about this before. I won’t get into the science but the basic idea is that placing a couple of squidgy balls (can’t think of a better description) under certain pressure points on your body helps release tension held in the body. Suffering from locked up calves and hip pain from running, I decided to give it a try and it was one of the best post-op purchases I made.
12. Sports massage
Speaking of locked-up limbs, this was another ‘wish I’d done it sooner’ thing. I had plenty of leg massages during my time in Thailand a few months after surgery but it didn’t occur to me to do it at home and my muscles got tight because of it. While you’re recovering, all your other muscles step in, putting extra strain on them. Once I had a few sports massages (from my private physio) things felt much easier. She also included friction massage on my scar (a long time after it had healed) and it reduced the scar tissue massively.
13. Gym membership
Chances are, if you’re focused on recovery, you already have a gym membership. If not, I’d recommend investing in it for at least a few months post surgery. From bikes to strength machines, to running machines (for walking and early running), a gym will help you recover faster in a safer way. If you’re looking for a gift for somebody facing ACL surgery, a month’s membership might be a real treat.
Look up squats and lunges in the dictionary and you’ll see either painful or boring or both. My physio had a TRX at his ‘office’ and got me doing all sorts of leg and butt strengthening exercises with it, and it somehow makes it a bit less tedious (maybe because it makes them feel easier because it helps with balance?). I still pull out the TRX every now and then when my knee feels weak. Sling it over my kitchen door and I’m done in 10 mins. This is what I’d call ideal lifetime knee-strength maintenance. TRX is a brand – there are cheaper suspension trainers available. I tried one but sent it back because, compared to the TRX I’d used with my physio, it wasn’t nearly as good. But see what you can find.
If any of you are running addicts, you’ll know how hard it is resist running while you recover. I’ve been unfortunate and never really got back to running without repeated injury to my hip. A rebounder (adult trampoline) gives me a safe and fun running experience without the impact problems from hitting the road or even the treadmill. Rebounding was included as part of my post-surgery physio so it must be good for knee recovery.
16. Yoga mat
I was a yogi before busting my knee so it was inevitable I’d hit my mat for recovery. Even if you’re new to yoga, you’ve no doubt read loads of positive things about it. For post-surgery recovery, yoga stretching is a gentle way to strengthen muscles, and a yoga mat is essential so you don’t slip around (and cause more injury). If you are new to yoga, just speak to your physio about which postures to do and when. At first, I’d opt for a thicker mat than standard as it will give your knee some extra padding.
17. Yoga blocks
If your hands can’t reach the floor, yoga blocks will help the floor come to you. Rather than hurting yourself to get into a yoga pose, position a block to help make the poses easier. It will give you better alignment and less risk of harm, too.
So, that’s my list of products and gadgets to help with your ACL recovery. Got any other suggestions or questions, let me know in the comments below.
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