Authored by Revere Health

Recovering After ACL Surgery: What to Expect

May 16, 2018 | Orthopedics

Risk of knee surgery

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), allows for range of motion in your knee. Like other ligaments, the ACL can be torn during activity—often during sports like basketball, soccer, skiing, gymnastics or others that include sudden stopping and starting. For mild tears or strains of the ACL, physical therapy and conservative treatment methods may be enough. But for more severe tears, ACL reconstruction surgery is often necessary.

Doctors most often use arthroscopic surgery (a procedure in which your doctor inserts small tools and a camera through minor incisions) to repair the ACL. This surgical method is less invasive and doesn’t cause as much scarring as an open knee surgery would. Here’s what you can expect after an ACL surgery:

Immediately After Surgery

In most cases, an ACL surgery takes about one hour to complete, and most people are able to leave the hospital on the same day as the operation. After your surgery, your doctor may instruct you to follow a few protocols:

  • Stay off your leg: You’ll be instructed to stay off the affected leg after surgery and may be given a brace or a splint to wear.
  • Use crutches when walking: This helps you move around while limiting pressure on the knee.
  • Take care of your wound: Before you’re discharged from the hospital, you’ll be given some simple directions for changing your wound if needed. You’ll also get some instructions regarding showering or bathing and other post-surgery care.

R.I.C.E Method

In the days and weeks following ACL surgery, it’s likely you’ll feel some swelling and pain. The R.I.C.E. method is a great way to manage these symptoms:

  • Rest: Like any surgery, rest is an extremely important part of the recovery process. Follow your surgeon’s advice on things like how long to stay on crutches, when you can begin putting weight on the leg and the kinds of movements you can do.
  • Ice: Apply ice to the repaired knee at least once every two hours. Aim for sessions of 20 minutes at a time.
  • Compression: Use a compression wrap or elastic bandage around the knee.
  • Elevation: Elevate the knee whenever possible. While you’re lying down, for instance, you can use pillows to prop up the knee.

In time, physical therapy will become part of your recovery process to help you regain strength and movement in the joint. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions.

Successful Surgery Results

In the majority of cases, a successful surgery and diligent rehabilitation can help you return to a regular range of motion within just a few weeks, and for athletes looking to return to sports participation, this can generally be accomplished in eight to 12 months.

Risks to Know

Like with many surgical operations, there are some risks associated with ACL surgery:

  • Bleeding or infection at the site of surgery
  • Poor healing
  • Pain, stiffness or weakness in the knee
  • Pre-surgery symptoms are not fully relieved

Your doctor can offer further recommendations on ACL surgery, whether it’s right for you, and how you can recover properly.

I treat people of all ages in my practice—kids, athletes, adults and retirees––and enjoy being able to understand people’s unique situations in order to help them recover.



“ACL reconstruction.” The Mayo Clinic.

“ACL Surgery: What to Expect.” WebMD.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.