What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Do After ACL and MCL Tears and Surgery

Whether you injured your knee on the slopes, in the gym, on the field or from a slip and fall, getting back to 100% after knee surgery can feel like an uphill battle.

More often than not, that’s because it is.

Rehabilitating from ACL or MCL surgery is a long process – and that process begins the moment you awake from anesthesia.

ACL vs MCL Tears and Surgery

ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears and MCL (medial collateral ligament) tears are the two most common knee injuries in active adults. And while these two ligaments are involved in the majority of knee injuries, their function within the knee and corresponding treatment after injury aren’t as similar as you might think.

Torn ACL

The ACL stretches diagonally across the middle of the knee and helps with rotational stability, as well as controlling the back and forth motion of the knee. The MCL connects the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone) and helps stabilize and control the sideways movement of the knee.

Together, the ACL and MCL (along with the PCL and the LCL) are vital to knee stability and functionality. And while ACL tears and MCL tears can differ in severity and treatment, most tears will not heal on their own.

Torn MCL

Luckily, all but the most severe MCL tears are typically treated with physical therapy. MCL rehab and recovery can be a long road filled with mobility and strengthening exercises, but it (thankfully) doesn’t usually require surgery.

ACL tears, however, are a whole different story.

ACL Surgery: The Fastest (and Often Only) Way to Recover from an ACL Tear

Unlike recovery from a torn MCL – which can usually be rehabilitated back to health – recovery from an ACL tear almost always begins with surgery.

If you’re staring down the barrel of an ACL reconstruction – or just went through ACL surgery – you probably have a few questions…

  • How long does it take to recover from an ACL surgery?
  • What’s the fastest way to recover from ACL reconstruction?
  • What should I do after my ACL surgery?

(Learn what to expect during your ACL reconstruction.)

ACL Surgery Recovery Time

The first question has a simple but imprecise answer: it depends.

If your surgery was successful with no complications and you plan to follow the rehabilitation recommendations of your orthopedic surgeon to the letter, the best guess is no less than six months. For some, it can take up to two years to get back to 100%.

The Fastest ACL Post-Surgery Rehab Program

Step 1: Listen to your doctor.

Step 2: Listen to your physical therapist.

Step 3: Do exactly what they say to do, when they say to do it.

It’s honestly that simple. The most difficult thing about ACL rehabilitation is sticking to the program – whether that means pushing yourself past your comfort zone or reigning it in so as to not overdo it. Pushing the limits and staying within the rehabilitation lines differs from person to person and from day-to-day.

Remember, it’s an uphill battle… but it’s one you can win.

The Do’s and Don’ts After ACL Surgery

Do: Keep your knee straight!

Yes, this will not be comfortable, but it’s vital to keep the knee joint completely straight immediately after your ACL reconstruction. This gives the joint time to heal properly without stressing your newly-fixed ligament.

Don’t: Put weight on your new knee.

That’s right… a wheelchair and/or crutches are mandatory until your orthopedic surgeon says it’s okay to begin putting light pressure on your knee.

Do: Wear your knee brace!

It’s uncomfortable. And hot. And maybe a little itchy… but it will help protect and stabilize your knee while speeding up your recovery. Wear it everywhere, all the time.

Don’t: Walk, swim, cycle, bend and extend your knee, etc. until you’re cleared to do so.

You want to rehab your ACL. That’s great! Don’t push it. (See “The Fastest ACL Post-Surgery Rehab Program” above.)

Do: Physical therapy. All of it.

It will hurt. It will be boring at times. You will want to stop… Don’t. Your future knee will thank you.

Do: Go to your scheduled follow-ups with your knee surgeon.

The sooner he or she clears you, the sooner you get back to doing all of the things you love.

If you have more questions about your ACL, MCL or any other knee injury, feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to help.

2 Comments


I am convinced that I tore my ACL but am being treated for a torn meniscus it has been two months since my injury happened what are my chances of recovery no surgery was performed only days no MRI pain is excruciating at times

Reply

    Linda,
    I would recommend getting a second opinion. The doctor you see can help you obtain an MRI, or at the very least give you an Rx/order for one. Second opinions are often encouraged by most providers and many can/will even do it remotely (via Telehealth) if that is more convenient for you. I hope this helps!

    Reply

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