ACL Surgery: Recovery Timeline

Posted on August 11th, 2015 by Orthopaedic Specialty Group


Anyone who actively plays or watches sports is familiar with a torn ACL injury. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is located at the front of the knee and is essential for natural knee movement and stability. Unfortunately for athletes, sports often place this ligament in a compromised position where it is susceptible to injury, which is why more than 250,000 people tear their ACLs every year.

A torn ACL will almost always require reconstructive surgery, and a full recovery can take as long as nine months. Here is the typical recovery timeline for an athlete after undergoing ACL reconstructive surgery:

Phase I: First 2 weeks after surgery

During the first two weeks following your surgery, the main goal is limiting pain and swelling as much as possible, while also focusing on partially regaining your range of motion. You will likely be on crutches for at least 7-10 days following the surgery.

Phase II: 2-6 weeks after surgery

During phase two, you will continue to work on reducing swelling and pain, while further improving your range of motion. Phase two is also where you will begin to work on strengthening your knee. Your physical therapist should begin introducing you to exercises such as the stationary bike, stair climber, and elliptical machine.

Phase III: 6-12 weeks after surgery

Phase three focuses on restoring the athlete’s confidence in their knee and takes the first steps in preparing them to return to their sport. You may begin weight-bearing exercises such as half squats, leg press, step ups and step downs. Most patients are cleared to begin jogging at around month three.

Phase IV: 4-6 months after surgery

By now, your walking mechanics should be back to normal and you should be experiencing a full range of motion without any pain. At this point, many doctors allow patients to partially return to their sport – although they can’t fully participate in most activities, they can at least partake in some light drills.

Phase V: 6+ months after surgery

Once your knee has made a full recovery, you will be cleared for a full return in your sport. Full recovery entails that both knees are the same circumference and you have no trouble participating in exercises with a moderate-to-rigorous level of activity. Your surgeon may require you to wear a brace for the first year or two after your return.

Torn ACLs are painful, and the recovery process can be grueling. In order to make a fast and full recovery, you need a team of surgeons, specialists, and therapists that know what they are doing. That is what you will find at Orthopaedic Specialty Group, southern Connecticut’s largest orthopedic practice. From your shoulders to your knees to your ankles, and everywhere in between, count on us to get you healthy. Visit our website for more information or call us at (203) 337-2600.