Your recent fall tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in your knee. You're scheduled for arthroscopic surgery soon to have the injury repaired. Then you'll begin the process of regaining the use of that knee. A full recovery takes weeks of slow and incremental progress. Here is what you can expect from that recovery time once you leave the outpatient surgery clinic.
After the Arthroscopic Surgery
Arthroscopic surgery is a much less invasive procedure than traditional knee surgery. You'll just have two small incisions over the knee joint that your surgeon used when repairing the ACL. This procedure damages fewer tissues in the knee, which means you'll have less tissue to heal.
After the surgery, you'll spend some time in the recovery area of the outpatient clinic until the anesthetic wears off. The doctor will then give you some instructions before you go home, such as:
- how to monitor your knee for any abnormal drainage or pain
- how to change the bandages covering the small incisions
- how much weight you're allowed to place on your leg when you get home
You'll also get a prescription for pain medication, should you need it, and a date and time for a followup appointment in a few days. You'll then be free to go home.
The First Few Days At Home
You'll spend the time before your followup appointment resting and allowing your knee to heal. You will also do some work with your knee to prevent it from becoming stiff. This is a delicate time during your recovery, as overworking your knee could re-injure the torn ligament. Your doctor will show you how to manually move your knee through its motions to keep it limber during your first few days of recovery.
After the Followup Appointment
If your surgeon is satisfied with your healing progress, they will order physical therapy for you. This begins the process through which you'll regain full use of your knee. You'll work with a physical therapist in their clinic and be given exercises to do at home. It will be important during this phase of recovery to set a pace with the physical therapist. By sticking to this pace, you'll make incremental progress without overworking your knee and putting yourself at risk of re-injuring it.
Range of Motion Therapy
The first phase of physical therapy focuses on getting your knee to move through its normal range of motion. The muscles will be a little stiff, even after the exercises you did once you got home. Initially, the therapist will do passive movement wherein they move your knee for you through its motions. You'll be shown how to do this yourself at home between sessions.
In a few days, the therapist will have you do active therapy, where you move your knee with its own muscles through the range of motions. You'll now be able to place more weight on your knee as you walk. The therapist will measure the progress with each session, and once you've attained nearly normal range of motion in your knee, you'll begin the next phase of physical therapy.
In this phase, you'll focus on building up the muscles in your knee. This is not only to help you walk and move your knee, but strong muscles help to prevent injury to the knee joint. The therapist will have you work with resistance machines in their clinic. You may also use stationary bicycles. You'll be able to put even more weight on your knee when walking and may also start taking steps without your crutches.
This is a time to pay attention to your pace and be careful not to overdo it. As you begin to feel better and more capable with your knee, you will be eager to get back to your normal daily activities. You may push yourself, and your knee, to do more than you're ready for. This puts you at risk of a fall or other injury. Maintain the pace you established with your therapist so you continue making progress without risking a set back because of overworking your knee.