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How Long Does It Take to Heal After ACL Reconstruction?

Athletes and weekend warriors put a lot of stress on their knees. But let’s face it: knees get a workout and stress no matter who you are, just from the daily activities of life. That’s why there are up to 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears each year in the United States alone.

When the tear’s bad enough, rest and rehab therapy aren’t enough to repair an ACL. If you’ve experienced a severe ACL tear, stretch, or rupture, you may need expert ACL reconstruction surgery. If you’re scheduled for ACL reconstruction, here’s what to expect as you recover and return to your daily routine.

David Lintner, MD —  head team physician for the Houston Astros (27 + years)  and team orthopedist for the Houston Texans (19+ years) — is an expert at ACL reconstruction at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Statistics show that most ACL surgeries are done by surgeons who do fewer than twenty per year. Dr. Lintner does over 125 ACL reconstructions annually. Experience matters! 

You’ll (probably) go straight home

In most cases of ACL reconstruction, a hospital stay is unnecessary. However, if you’d like the extra time alone to recover, let us know, and we’ll arrange an overnight stay.

Whether you stay a night in the hospital or choose to go home, you need a ride after ACL reconstruction. Directly after your surgery, you’ll be groggy. And even if you rest with us overnight, your leg will be sore. Arrange ahead of time to have a family member or friend take you home from the hospital.

You wear a brace for about a month

A knee brace supports your knee as your tendon grafts fuse and other tissues heal. Even though you won’t be playing your sport for a while, the brace helps keep your knee safe as you walk and perform your physical therapy. Keep your brace on except when in PT or when sleeping.Once your quadricep muscle can protect your knee, you will transition out of the brace.

It’s also important to keep the dressing on your knee intact. The surgical bandage is sterile and we want to keep it that way.  Let us change your bandage. If it becomes soiled, let us know.

In most cases, you can stop wearing the brace after about 3-4 weeks. However, if you also tore your MCL, you’ll need to wear a brace for 4-6 weeks. You could also wear a sport brace when you’re doing your physical therapy or as you get back to practicing your sport.

You walk right away

The reason you need a brace is because we want you to challenge your knee  post-op, but in a protected manner.  You need to start putting weight on the knee and subjecting it to normal stresses and stretching so that it heals properly.

Even though we give you crutches, you should still put as much weight as possible on your recovering knee. THIS MAY CHANGE IF YOU NEEDED STITCHES IN YOUR MENISCUS CARTILAGE. We want you to continue using crutches until you can walk without a limp.

You start PT within days

The first few days after your surgery, just putting weight on your leg with the aid and support of crutches and a knee brace plus the home exercises are enough. You’ll want to wait until the swelling subsides before engaging in any kind of exercise.

We provide an instructional video preop that shows you the home exercises to do the first few days post op. Your next level of exercises should all be guided by your physical therapist (PT). Your PT’s first goal is to re-establish the full range of motion while simultaneously strengthening your knee. We recommend PT:

PT gets gradually more difficult and challenging to help strengthen your knee until you’re ready to resume your normal workouts.

Return to work is gradual

Recovery differs depending on whether you’re a desk worker or a pro athlete. An approximate return-to-work and activities timeline follows:

Pro athletes should expect at least six months of recovery and rehab before they’re able to return to their game. Your PT may also modify the way you move and play so that you won’t tear your ACL again.

If you book your ACL reconstruction today, your recovery timeline starts now. Call the office nearest you today for a consultation in Houston or Baytown, Texas. 

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