If you’re here, then you may have torn your ACL, like me and so many other athletes. If not, you’re here for general information and that’s fine as well, I hope to be as helpful as I can in explaining the process of ACL reconstruction and share my post-surgical experiences.
For more information on the ACL, check out this article.
I tore my ACL when I was 17, in my senior year of high school, at the homecoming football game. I’ve never suffered a serious injury before, in fact, I’ve hardly ever been injured. I’ve always been involved in sports, from baseball, to track, to wrestling, to football, to soccer. I’ve always been an outdoors type person, I’ve climbed and fallen out of trees, I’ve rode and crashed bikes. I’ve even been hit harder, and from awkward angles before in football. But when my ACL tore, it was just a matter of my leg being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
At first, you feel pain and your knee is just immobilized. You can’t put much weight on it without experiencing pain. You probably think you just dislocated your knee cap or something, but nonetheless, head to your doctor as soon as possible.
First, your doctor will examine the knee. Testing its flexion and extension, and maybe even drawing blood to reduce swelling. He will then check your knee for bone damage via X-Ray.
If there is no damage, then you will have to be examined with an MRI. Basically it’s a giant machine that examines your leg as you lay down. About a week later, you’ll know the results.
If, like me, you tore your ACL, your doctor will let you know, and he’s going to highly recommend surgery. Some people choose to not have their ACL repaired, but this is highly discouraged to young people, or those who like to engage in physical activities.
There are a few ways to repair your ACL.
The first is with a cadaver. This means the surgeon uses a dead person’s body part to serve as your new ligament. This is a pretty efficient way to repair the ACL, but you risk infection and sometimes people aren’t comfortable having a dead person’s body part in your leg. Sometimes your body will reject the foreign body part, and this causes infection or inflammation.
The other option is to use the middle third of your patella tendon, which is the tendon on top of your knee cap. This is a better option if you, like me, aren’t comfortable using a cadaver. It is the most effective, but you will feel more pain and it will require longer recovery time as your patella also needs time to recover. Also, since you are using a tendon to replace a ligament, it will take more time for the tendon to turn into a ligament.
I was very afraid of surgery. I’ve never had any kind of operation done on me, so naturally, I had many worries and was distressed. But have no fear, surgery is the easiest part.
Basically you show up at the hospital, and the nurses and doctors ask you a few questions. Eventually, you part ways with whomever you were with and you go into the waiting room. When they are ready for you, you are carted out where they hook you up to anesthesia. This is a pretty simple process. Before you know it, you’re knocked out, and you’re being forced to wake up by some nurses hours after surgery, just to make sure you’re still living. You will probably immediately fall back asleep, where you will wake up in the recovery room a few more hours later.
At first, you don’t feel any pain as you’re still loaded up on meds. At the end of the day (they usually have you in and out the same day) you can go home. You’ll probably want to pick up your pain medication as soon as possible, because once the medication wears off, the pain will be overwhelming. This is natural, after all, it’s surgery, and you have some innards cut, scraped, drilled, and sewn back together. Just keep up on your pain medication and get a lot of rest.
You’ll want to ice your leg as well, as it will feel hot. You can take your gigantic brace off and examine the would, but don’t move around without the brace. You will notice that your leg is very weak and your muscles feel like jello.
There might be some discoloration, but that’s from the iodine and some other surgical fluids (not blood). You might also smell anesthesia, that nobody else seems to be able to smell!
You’ll be making frequent visits with your surgeon, who will have you paired up with a physical therapist, whom you will be working closely with for the next few months.
The first few weeks are just examining the leg, icing it, putting stims on it (electrical pulses) and even heating it, just to get the swelling to lower. Then you will start working on bending the knee.
You can expect to be walking on your leg anywhere from 2-5 weeks after surgery. The sooner the better.
You’ll be on crutches for about another 2-3 weeks.
You should be able to jog at about 3 months.
You shouldn’t engage in physical activities (especially contact) until about 9 months.
You should be able to run by 6-7 months after surgery.
Your doctor will hook you up with a fancy metal brace, that you should use whenever you engage in strenuous activity. You can wear it whenever, but your leg after ACL reconstruction has the same chance to be re-injured as a leg that has never been injured.
Although I gave up wrestling, track, and football, I do engage in many intramural sports such as basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, and court hockey. I even joined club rugby, and my leg has held up just fine. Keep working out though and really strengthening your knee.
Remember what your leg went through though, and know your limits. You probably should be a little more conscious about your repaired knee.