A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in your knee destabilizes that joint and can take months to recover from after a surgical repair. To have a complete and successful recovery, you must have patience and perseverance. Here is what you can expect from your knee surgery recovery.

The ACL is Critical and Healing Takes Time

Four ligaments hold your knee joint together, keep it stable, yet allow it to move smoothly through its range of motion. The ACL is a small ligament that connects the ends of your upper and lower leg bones. When it tears because of a blow to the side of the knee (a common sports injury), the knee stability collapses.

Ligaments have little blood supply, which slows down the healing process. Combined with the forces put onto the ACL when you walk or flex your knee, recovery from a torn ACL requires time for the tissue to heal and become strong enough to support your knee again.

Beginning Physical Therapy After Surgery

For the first few days after surgery, you'll be on crutches and told to put no weight on your affected leg. This is to allow the muscles, tendons and ligaments to heal properly with no stress on them. You and your doctor will monitor the surgical site for any signs of infection. Once your orthopedist is satisfied with your healing, they will have you begin working with a professional physical therapist, like those at Peak Physical Therapy of Brooklyn​.

Your Recovery Starts with Passive Motion

The therapist will begin the sessions by moving your knee through its normal range of motion. This is to slowly stretch out the muscles in and around your knee. Your doctor may let you touch a toe to the floor as you walk to gain a little more stability.

As you gain more flexibility in your knee, you'll be able to put more weight on your leg. This also begins building up some muscle strength in your knee and leg. The physical therapist will continue to do passive range of motion exercises on your knee until the knee is able to move freely in all of the directions while supporting your knee.

This is a time to be careful with your knee. A sudden fall or overworking your knee can cause injury, which may require additional surgery.

The Knee Strengthening Stage

With your knee able to flex in all directions smoothly, the therapist will start you on strength training. This builds up the muscles around the knee to support it while moving and to prevent future injury to the knee.

You will do several weeks of strength training, which includes:

  • walking and treadmill work
  • stationary bike
  • leg and knee weight training

During this phase, your doctor and physical therapist will establish a strict pace, which you shouldn't exceed. It will give your knee enough resistance to build up the muscles, without putting excess stress on the ACL and other ligaments. If you push beyond those limits, you put yourself at risk of re-injuring your knee.

Therapy Tailored to Your Lifestyle

If you are an athlete or runner, your doctor may have you spend several weeks doing strength training. This is to get your knee back to the state required to support those rigorous activities. Getting back on the track or field too soon puts your knee at risk.

If you have a less physically active life, your formal therapy will take less time, but you'll be instructed to maintain a schedule of walking and biking to keep your knee in good shape.