Dr. Hacker shares what women need to know about the recovery from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery (the anterior cruciate ligament is one of the ligaments in your knee).
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Ladies, I’d like to talk with you about things you should be aware of after your ACL surgery. The pain that you’re going to experience after an ACL surgery is different for everyone. Some people have very little pain and some people have a little bit more. It’s always hard to know which person you’re going to be. But we as physicians are aware of this and do every we can to make you as comfortable as possible with the appropriate medications and get you through this as quickly as possible. After the surgery, some people may have a burning sensation in their knee. Some people may feel achy pain, an occasional twinge of stabbing pain. This is all very normal and all of these typically resolves within the first week or two after these kind of surgeries. Sometimes, one experiences bruising further down the leg after these surgeries. Pain can be felt down further away from the incisions. This isn’t usually something to be alarmed of but it’s unfortunately a side effect of the surgeries. If you do experience bruising after the surgery, you should definitely let your physician know. Usually after an ACL surgery, it’s reasonable to take a shower right away as long as you keep the area of the incisions completely covered and dry. Your physician will let you know as time goes on when it’s safer to soak in a tub or be in a swimming pool or a hot tub after the wounds have completely healed. The best way to keep your wound dry while in the shower is to keep it covered with something such as plastic wrapper or saran wrap and then tape around the top. There are commercially available covers which you can put over your leg to keep the entire leg completely dry as well. I’m a huge fan of icing the knee after ACL surgeries. I send my patients home with specialized wraps to keep the knee iced as much as possible. Typically, we have you ice the knee for periods of 20 to 30 at a time and do this five to six times a day. Your activity after the surgery will be guided by your physician. Usually, you’ll be using crutches for a period of time initially and then as time goes on, you’ll find yourself wanting to become more and more active. Most physicians will allow this and will pace you as you try to increase your level of activity with time. My patients always ask me when they come back to see me, “Doc, when can I run? When can I go back and play football? When can I play beach volleyball?” What’s probably the most important question is when is this graft really ready to see those stresses and strains from normal everyday life? Now the answer of course is that that sometimes is different depending on what you want to do. But typically for me, someone using tissue from their own body, I like to go back to doing some light running in four to five months out and most people are able to go back and play more aggressive sporting activities such as tennis, volleyball, cutting and pivoting activities that may have torn their graft in the first place. That usually is closer to 7 to 8 months out following the surgery. I hope this overview on what you can expect after an ACL surgery is helpful to you and will help guide you through the process.
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