A Real Life Guide To ACL Surgery & Recovery

If you’re reading this, you already know the moment – the moment when you heard a pop and your life, or at least the life of your knee, changed forever. 

It was a sickening moment. 

A moment I would go back and change in a heartbeat (I don’t have many moment that I regret so deeply that I wish I could change them, but this is top of the list). 

But the thing is, we can’t go back. We can’t change things. So, I’ve written this guide instead. A real life guide to ACL surgery and recovery, from a regular person who ruptured her ACL; not a guide from a doctor or a physio or surgeon who is hungry to wield a scalpel.

I had my surgery in late 2016. I wrote a short post about it at the time, giving details of what my surgery was like (there were a few surprises). Then I added to it, updating the post with regular diary entries, charting the timeline of my ACL recovery. That post started a conversation, with hundreds of comments from other, regular people, asking questions, sharing suggestions and generally supporting each other in our collective recovery,

Then I suffered some injuries on the road to recovery and scrambled about to find some solutions. I ended up writing a bit more, about things I would have done differently during my recovery. And then I wrote another post to give a handy list of all the tried and tested products I’ve used along the way. 

What started as one post has sprawled to pages of tips and advice on the surgery and how best to recover. 

It was time to split it all up and make it more manageable for you all to digest – you’re already having to digest the idea of having surgery. The last thing I want to do is make your life more difficult by dumping all my tips and experiences into one very long post. 

Hence, this post. From here you can access all of my other guides, tricks and tips and experiences from having my ACL repaired. Feel free to bookmark this page and check back along the various stages of your journey.

Good luck!

Knee with pink kinetic tape: broken do not use

Tearing my ACL

Hello, I’m Jo and I ruptured my ACL. That’s not all I did – I added a grade II tear to my MCL and ripped my meniscus all in the same moment. 

I was on a remote island in the British Virgin Islands, several days’ travel from a proper doctor or hospital when I did it.

Of course, the BVIs are renowned for their rich clientele (sadly, I’m not one of them – I was on a shared catamaran, bunking with strangers to be able to afford the trip). But amongst the affluent visitors was a good number of doctors and surgeons. It didn’t take long to get an informal ‘probably a ruptured ACL’ diagnosis.

Those quick look diagnoses from those half-cut experts were subsequently confirmed by MRI, back in the UK. 

What took much longer, was the wait for my surgery – it’s wonderful that the UK’s National Health Service covers the cost of the surgery, but I was at the bottom of a very long list. So, I sat down, leg up to wait…

Then, finally, in September 2016, after 9 months of waiting, it was my turn. 

You might be interested to know that at the time of injury I was 39 years old, active but not the fittest I’ve been in my life (too many stops at the street food stand). I’m also a perfectionist but, sadly, a bit of a pain wimp.  

Read my knee injury story here: When Life Screams: Stop Travelling

ACL surgery – 15 things they don’t tell you

Pre op leg with ACL and arrow pointing to knee

My ACL repair wasn’t my first time under the knife – I’d had a deviated septum repaired back in 2010. Yes, I know that’s commonly code for having had a nose job, but this was legit. It WAS! Anyway, I digress.

My point was that I was no stranger to surgery, so I thought I knew what to expect. Ok, knee surgery meant I wouldn’t be able to walk very easily but it was key-hole surgery, no biggy, no biggy at all. At least that’s what the doctor led me to believe.

When I got my dad to finally peel off the dressing after the first day of surgery (yes, I was 40 years old and yes I made my dad do it), I was horrified at the size of the cut. And that wasn’t the only surprise about my surgery. That’s why I ended up writing about the 15 surprises from having surgery to repair my ACL. 

Read about it here: 15 Surprises From My ACL Repair Surgery – What They Don’t Tell You

My ACL recovery timeline

With my leg elevated, and travel off the cards for some time, what else was there to do besides blog about my ACL recovery? In those early days, I wanted to write about my ACL recovery timeline, to keep a diary of it, almost for myself so I could remember how it had been (and with the hope I’d be able to look back and think how far I’d come). 

In those first few weeks I wrote about the first few hours in hospital, the first 24 hours, the first few days, the first week, 10 days, 2 weeks and 3 weeks. In those detailed posts, I catalogued my pain and medication, use of crutches, physio, swelling, range of motion, sleeping, bathing and, for the gore seekers, I included pictures of my incision site and the staples (not stitches).

After those first few weeks, I updated my recovery timeline after weeks 4, 6, 8, 12 and 16.

I then added further updates after 6 months, 8 months and 12 months.

I’ve added a couple of yearly updates too. Don’t be horrified. Remember, I’m a perfectionist and therefore, I’m constantly striving to have my knee back to 100% even though every physio I’ve ever met has told me that’s not realistic.

I’ve put all of these updates into one handy post and of all my posts, I’ll keep it updated most. Also, check out the comments – there are hundreds of them from wonderful people like you. Sharing and caring. 

Read about it here: ACL Repair – Timeline of My Recovery (With Pictures)

15 Things I Would Have Done Differently To Recover

knee in splint and later knee in kinetic tape

What’s the saying? In hindsight you have 20:20 vision, or something like that? Well, I got a lot of hindsight over the last few years of my recovery. I did have some bumps along the way, my recovery wasn’t easy or straightforward.

Before surgery I was a runner. Nothing intense, maximum 10km (about 6 miles) but more commonly half that. I was also an avid yogi, hitting my yoga mat at least a few times a week. Both of these activities at some point during my recovery, caused me problems. In fact, I ended up with bursitis, which sent me on a journey of private physiotherapy. It was another almost year off the knee. But it taught me a lot.

It was after that stop-start-recovery-injury-recovery yo-yoing that I wroteabout what I’d learned and what I would have done differently. 

Read about it here: ACL Surgery Recovery – 15 Things I Would Have Done Differently

17 Gadgets to Help your ACL Recovery

And last but by no means least, the tools that have helped me along the way. I confess, I’m a fan of gadgets and gizzmos and, frankly, if there was a product out there that even hinted at improving or speeding up my recovery, I tried it. I’m not talking about expensive things. Some of them I got for free from my physio. Many cost me under £15/$20. All of them were under £75/$100. 

So I decided to write about that too.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy any fancy products to recover from surgery, just follow the physio. However, if you have friends and family who want to help you out with a recovery gift, and you want to swerve the temptation of lots of chocolate at a time when you’re pretty immobile, wave this list under their nose. 

Read about it here: Gadgets That Helped My ACL Recovery

And if you want some technical, medical info on ACL repair surgery, check out these posts: From the NHS and Physiopedia.

Leg in hospital bed after ACL surgery
Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.