Life After an ACL Tear

Life After an ACL Tear

You’ve hurt your knee, and it’s been diagnosed as an ACL tear. Will you recover function? How long will it be until you’re back to normal? 

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons with Coastal Empire Orthopedics treat many patients with ACL injuries. After performing tests to confirm that you have an ACL injury and determine the extent, we promptly start your treatment to get you back on the road to full mobility. 

ACL injuries often occur when you play sports, especially those involving quick turns or jumps — think soccer, tennis, basketball, and even dancing. About 70 percent of ACL injuries result from these types of moves. You can also tear your ACL by twisting your knee during an awkward fall. 

Your life after an ACL tear depends on its severity. Is it a partial or a complete tear? 

Treatment for a partial ACL tear

If the ACL is stretched or only partially torn, you may not need surgery. We prescribe pain medication if you need more than an over-the-counter pain reliever. You’ll ice the injury off and on the first few days and elevate the leg as much as possible. 

Once initial pain and inflammation have calmed, you’ll have physical therapy for several weeks to help you regain strength in the muscles supporting the knee. We may prescribe a knee brace to help with stability while your leg is healing.

Treatment for complete ACL tear 

Treatment for a complete ACL tear depends on your future activity level and how much the injury bothers you after the initial pain and inflammation have subsided. If you’re a competitive athlete and want to continue to play at the same level, you need surgical repair. 

If your pain disappears and you don’t play competitive sports, you may decide that the time and expense of surgery aren’t worth the benefits for you. Your orthopedic surgeon goes over the pros and cons with you. He explains that an ACL rupture won’t heal completely without surgery. You may be plagued with knee instability, leading to a fall. 

If you decide on surgery, we perform ACL repairs using minimally invasive techniques. You’ll only have small incisions around the knee. Your surgeon lets you know the graft he uses to repair the ligament, which could be a hamstring tendon or the patellar tendon. It takes about eight to ten weeks for the graft to heal, but that’s not the end of your recovery. 

The first week after surgery, you’ll have strong prescription pain relievers to aid your discomfort. You’ll ice and elevate the knee. Your doctor may prescribe using a passive motion machine for about a week, which gently moves your leg so it doesn’t become stiff. You’ll need crutches to keep weight off of your knee. 

After a couple of weeks, you may be able to start to bear some weight on your leg. You may be fitted with a knee brace. If you have a brace, you’ll use it for about six weeks. 

You’ll also start physical therapy sometime after the two-week initial recovery period. You’ll have therapy two to three times per week and you must follow your therapist’s instructions and complete exercises at home. Your doctor lets you know how many weeks of physical therapy you’ll need. 

Doing your exercises at home ensures that your knee doesn’t stiffen up. You want to regain your full range of motion, and the only way that’s possible is by diligently doing the therapy exercises as prescribed. 

Full recovery from ACL surgery can take from six to nine months. You should have a full range of motion and be able to function normally by that time. 

Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment online today for expert ACL treatment and all of your orthopedic needs. 

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