Preparing For An ACL Reconstruction
For many people, especially serious athletes or even sports enthusiasts, joint injuries can be an unfortunate side effect of an active lifestyle. While many individuals can recover from aches and pains without more invasive medical interventions, other injuries will require more attention. In particular, a common knee injury that the active set can experience is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. When a tear occurs, the orthopedic surgeon may recommend an ACL reconstruction.
ACL tears and repairs
The anterior cruciate ligament is a critical tissue found in the knee that helps to stabilize the joint for any movements, from mundane walking or bending to more intensive pivoting and jumping. When the ligament is torn, the condition is known as an ACL tear. More minor forms of the injury can often be repaired through rest, at-home treatment, and rehabilitation exercises. However, for more severe tears, ACL reconstruction may be required. Knowing what to expect from the procedure and how to manage the recovery period are critical for regaining full range of motion (ROM) and function. Asking the following 4 questions can help patients prepare for surgery.
1. What is an ACL reconstruction?
Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction can be performed with minimally invasive methods or as an open surgery. Depending on the severity of the damage, the injured ligament may be either completely or partially removed. Donor tissue harvested from the tendon of the patient undergoing surgery or another person may then be attached to bones in the knee and leg to foster tissue growth for a new ligament.
2. Who should consider the surgery?
Not all people are ideal candidates for reconstructive surgery on the knee. In particular, people with minor injuries are urged to try at-home treatment and physical therapy (PT) first to boost joint stability and allow the tissues to mend independently. By contrast, individuals with more serious ACL injuries who either didn’t respond to previous treatments or continue to struggle with knee stability would be considered ideal patients for ACL repair.
3. How long is the recovery period?
Keep in mind that individual timelines can vary based on the extent of the damage that needs to be corrected and how effectively a patient adheres to recovery guidelines. Generally, full recovery can range from 6-9 months, with athletes sometimes requiring an entire year. Post-operative care should focus on pain management, mobility recovery, and preventing future damage to the ligament. Engaging in post-operative physical therapy that prioritizes proper mechanics can be a critical prevention tool.
4. When to return to work?
Like the recovery period, return-to-work timelines can vary depending on the type of job an individual holds. A person who works at a desk and spends most of the time sitting may return to work in as little as a week after surgery. Meanwhile, standing or highly active roles might not be resumed until 6 weeks after the procedure.
Know what to expect
The best way to prepare for ACL reconstruction is to speak with an orthopedic surgeon. This specialist can provide a full scope of how the procedure will be performed and even offer guidance on common post-surgical issues that might arise. Asking questions ahead of time ensures a smooth procedure.