Recovery After Your ACL Surgery

Good ACL rehabilitation is not time-focused, it is goal-focused. Your recovery process should be based on achieving goals. These might include range of motion, swelling reduction or strength improvement. Your timeline for recovery shouldn’t purely be based on the duration of time after your ACL surgery.

Dr Matthew Hutchinson discussing the ACL Recovery Timeline

ACL Recovery Timeline

Immediately after your ACL reconstruction, there will be a 2-week recovery period involving pain management and rehabilitation before your follow up appointment. This time is focused on ensuring your comfort in recovery and supporting ongoing physical improvement for the affected knee.

This ACL recovery timeline is only a guide, and each patient will recover at their own rate.

0 – 2 Weeks

  1. Reduce pain and swelling around the knee and ACL.
  2. Protect the ACL reconstruction graft from too much stretch while it is healing.
  3. Improve muscle strength and control of your leg in safe environment.  
  4. Transition from using crutches to walking without them.
  5. Achieve full knee extension (knee coming out fully straight) and knee flexion (knee bending) 90 degrees or greater,
  6. Make an appointment to see your physiotherapist within 1-2 weeks of surgery.
  7. Confirm the date and time for your follow up appointment (usually 2 weeks after surgery).

6 Weeks

Your knee will want to achieve full range of motion. Your swelling should be significantly reduced and you should be walking without a major limp.

3 Months

After 3 months, you should be capable of jogging lightly in a straight line.

6 Months

Under the supervision of your physiotherapist you should be capable of jumping, landing and leaping in a controlled environment.

9 Months

At this stage you should be able to resume low intensity sports-specific training. This include doing some of the activities of your chosen sport, but in a non-contact environment where the risks of re-injuring your ACL are low.

9-12 Months

You can continue to increase your training and activities with gradually increments, with the aim of retuning to full sports by approximately 12 months.

Pain Management Plan for ACL Surgery

After your surgery, Dr Hutchinson will discuss your ACL pain management plan with you. There are a number of different pain relief strategies, and it is very important to employ all of them to ensure your ongoing comfort.

Good pain relief enables you to mobilise and begin your rehabilitation exercises. Patients who do not mobilise and participate in their exercises soon after surgery are at greater risk of stiffness due to scar tissue formation inside the knee joint.

Therefore it’s important that patients follow their ACL pain management plan in order to achieve the best rehabilitation following ACL surgery.

Rehabilitation after ACL Surgery

Prior to leaving hospital you will receive instructions from a physiotherapist about the primary exercises for the first two weeks after surgery. Perform your physiotherapy exercises a minimum of 3 times per day. The more often you perform them the better, as long as you are not in too much pain.

DO NOT place pillows underneath your knee joint to keep it bent/flexed. This may feel more comfortable in the short term, as it reduces the stretch on your hamstring harvest site. But it will make it more and more challenging to fully straighten your knee, and this could result in permanent stiffness. Keep your knee as straight as possible when not doing exercises. Achieving full knee extension is a challenge for many patients after ACL surgery, so keep working at it.

In general, keep things quiet for the first 7 days after surgery. Mobilise only as required with crutches and elevate your leg as much as possible. If you spend too much time standing or sitting upright, your knee and leg will become more swollen and uncomfortable.

One week after surgery you can mobilise more frequently and spend more time on your feet. You may notice increased swelling and discomfort as you become more mobile.

When Can I Drive a Car After ACL Surgery?

As soon as you can safely get into and out of a car, and operate the vehicle safely, you may drive. In general, this would be 1-2 weeks after surgery. It may depend upon what leg you have had surgery on, and the type of car you drive. Your physiotherapist can assist with clearing you to drive.

When Can I Return to Work After ACL Surgery?

You are able to return to work in 1-2 weeks for desk-based jobs. If your job requires manual duties, if maybe 6-8 weeks before you can return, or 3 months for very heavy, manual work.

Watch: Recovery After Your ACL Surgery

What If I Have Further Questions?

View the comprehensive education videos and downloadable PDF documents that are available here . These will answer in detail all of the common questions you may have. If you still have specific concerns, contact the SportsMed nursing team on:

(08) 8130 1225

Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm
(08) 8130 1174

After hours & weekends