Overview of an ACL Tear
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four primary ligaments that make up the knee. Commonly referred to as tears, injuries to the ACL are separated by degrees of severity:
- Grade 1 Sprain: The ACL has experienced minimal tearing. In a grade 1 sprain, the joint is typically still functional, therefore surgery is not usually recommended.
- Grade 2 Sprain: The ACL has experienced moderated tearing. In a grade 2 sprain, the ligament is partially torn and may require surgery.
- Grade 3 Sprain: The ACL has experienced a complete tear. In a grade 3 sprain, the ligament has been separated and will need surgery to recover.
Do ACL tears heal?
A torn ACL will not heal without surgery. It is possible to return to return to light activity without surgery, such as walking, if a patient uses something to brace the unstable knee. This requires a lifestyle change as the ligament will remain torn.
Can you still walk if you have a torn ACL?
Most people are still able to walk with a torn ACL. The ability to walk will be dependent upon the severity of the tear and whether or not other ligaments are affected.
How to prepare for an ACL Reconstruction
You should prepare for your ACL reconstruction by discussing the procedure with your physician. Feel free to ask questions or address concerns that you may have.
Prior to the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon may recommend physical therapy to reduce swelling. This will later aid in your surgery and recovery. If the surgeon has any more pre-op instructions, be sure to follow them, as well.
You should plan for someone to drive you home. ACL reconstruction is an outpatient surgery, meaning you will leave that same day.
Other ways you can prepare for your surgery include:
- Have someone stay with you if you live alone
- Keep a positive mindset, each person’s progress is different
- Have your crutches, ice machine, and other wound care supplies ready
- Plan to have reliable transportation to and from physical therapy sessions
What to expect during the ACL Reconstruction procedure
You will most likely be under general anesthesia for your procedure. During the ACL reconstruction, your surgeon will replace your damaged ligament with a new one called a graft. The surgery generally lasts between 1-2 hours.
After ACL Reconstruction
Because ACL reconstruction is an outpatient surgery, you can expect to head home following the procedure. In the days following the surgery, rest will be your best option for recovery.
A physical therapy program can also help you regain mobility. Your physician will refer you to a physical therapy provider, who will then create a recovery plan for you. Adherence to your care plan is imperative for the outcome of your surgery, and will include both time in a clinic and a home program.
How long does it take to recover from an ACL surgery?
Recovery from ACL surgery varies by the individual’s health and therapy. You can expect to return to work in the matter of weeks or months, depending on the required activity level of your job. You should generally stay away from high-impact activities like sports for 8-12 months.
How long does it take before you can walk after ACL surgery?
You should begin walking 2-4 weeks after your surgery. Your doctor may advise you to use crutches until you are able to walk pain-free and without a limp.