In January, it’s customary to “start fresh,” right? Well, I started the year off with a “fresh” ACL. Fun! Now that I’m four weeks post-op, I figured it was a good time to offer my first round insight for anyone else who may be facing this type of surgery and recovery.
I injured my knee playing pickleball at the end of September. When it wasn’t any better a few weeks later I met with an orthopedist, had some imaging, and was subsequently told I tore my left ACL. “Given my age” (yeah, that was a fun conversation), he suggested a conservative approach for a few weeks. But after six weeks of physical therapy I knew I’d need the surgery in order to return to my normal activity level.
At the start of January, I ended up having outpatient ACL reconstruction with an allograph, which turned out to be a donor achilles tendon! Amazing!
Now, about those expectations…
It’s been said you can tolerate almost anything if you have the right expectations. I’ve also heard you tend to get what you expect: expect good things and you’re more likely to have a positive experience, expect bad things and, well, you get this is going. Well, here are a few of my expectations and results thus far:
😧 Pain expectation: will be quite challenging without narcotics
🤕 Pain result: very manageable
Given they make me vomit and hallucinate (usually some sort of prehistoric animal), I opted to forgo narcotics in favor of my favorite acetaminophen + ibuprofen cocktail. Even without narcotics, I found the pain to be quite tolerable. I continued the ibuprofen for two weeks as advised by my surgeon for inflammation, but stopped the acetaminophen about 4-5 days post-op. Ice has been my preferred (and very effective) method of managing stiffness and soreness throughout.
🚙 Return to driving expectation: 2-6 weeks
🚕 Return to driving result: 4+ weeks
The doctor’s office told me the official statement about driving is 4-6 weeks, but given my right leg was not impacted they said ultimately it was up to me. I took this to mean I could drive after I was cleared at my two week post-op appointment. 🤣 That was clearly a pipe dream. I can handle only very short stints in the driver’s seat presently, but am hoping to increase that fully by six weeks post-op.
Presently my biggest problem is the full leg brace, which can impact circulation in certain seated positions. Oh, and the crutches…
🚶♀️ Get off crutches expectation: 2-4 weeks
Get off crutches result: 4+ weeks
I really wanted to be off the crutches completely by four weeks post-op, but I’m still hobbling along. My quad muscle just isn’t quite strong enough to fully support me 100% of the time, but I’m *almost* there! I did eight weeks of pre-op physical therapy, but those two weeks of inaction after the surgery really did a number on my quad. (For the first two weeks after surgery your leg is “locked” in the straight position in a brace running from your upper thigh down to your ankle.)
I read that for every one week of muscle inactivity, you’ll have six weeks of rehab. Ouch! I’ve upped my PT to three times a week for a bit to hopefully fix some bad habits I’ve already picked up in trying to re-learn how to walk, and get me back to normal walking by six weeks post-op.
🍳 Taking care of myself expectation: 2 weeks
🛌🏻 Taking care of myself result: 3-4+ weeks
This is, perhaps, the hardest part for me. I’m usually super self-sufficient, so having to rely on others for just about everything has been quite challenging. I live in a three-story townhouse… and the stairs have made me depend on others more than I wish. For the first week, I didn’t leave my bedroom/bathroom area. My first PT appointment was seven days post-op, so I made the long trek down to the garage. After that, I tried to at least go down to the kitchen (second floor) once a day. I gradually increased that so I now go up and down the stairs 2-3 times a day. But I’m super slow and can’t really carry anything that doesn’t fit in my backpack (which I take with me up and down the stairs), meaning I’m still reliant on my husband for a lot more than I anticipated.
🎾 Bounce-back expectation: 4-6 weeks
🧶 Bounce-back result: 2-3 months
I told my surgeon I wanted to help my daughter move around six weeks post-op—the driving and organizing part, not the lifting and carrying part—and he said I’d be fine for that. My very positive interpretation of his response was that I’d “bounce back” to my baseline activity level within 4-6 weeks. Given where I am now, I’m hesitant to call this any amount of bouncing (hence my ball of yarn emoji). I have made a ton of progress, but definitely have had some set backs too. It’d probably be better to refer to the first three months as a very slow roll-out and save the bouncing expectations for 3-6 months post-op.
I’ll leave it at that for this post. Next time, I’ll share my list of must-haves and nice-to-haves for ACL surgery prep.