ACL Recovery – Month One
Recovery from ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction surgery is a long and slow road. In addition to the obvious pain, inconvenience and immobility following surgery, the many hours of physiotherapy and rehabilitation are a real and ongoing burden.
The one thing I have learned is there is no point undergoing surgery if you are not committed to doing the hard yards afterwards – rehab exercises are a mandatory requirement, not a discretionary one when it comes to ACL recovery.
I underwent surgery one month ago. The surgery involved replacing the lost ACL with a graft collected from my hamstring. The reconstruction was performed via arthroscopic surgery and resulted in two small scars on either side of the knee plus a longer scar below the knee, where the hamstring was harvested for the graft.
The surgery took around two hours and I was in hospital overnight. I woke up with my knee heavily dressed and in a brace.
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation) was commenced and I relied on an arm-rest walking frame to move about for the first 24 hours – like the one depicted below. I felt a whole lot older than my 40 years, I can tell you…
Thanks to heavy duty painkillers (morphine and endone) I was relatively comfortable in hospital. And I was sent home with panadeine forte and oral inflammatories too so I was not really with it for the first week or so. As a result I may have had too much fun playing around with my many tablets.
I was also sent home with a pair of crutches that I relied on heavily for those first few weeks. It’s difficult to get around otherwise…
I stayed on the bottom level of my house for the first 4 nights, dozing on the couch. It was struggle enough to move to the toilet and impossible in those first few days to navigate the stairs with an immobile leg. I tried to see the bright side of my confinement, tagging my photos in that first week with #viewfrommycouch
The aim of the first two weeks is to recover by continuing to follow the RICE protocol and start with slow and gentle exercises in order to regain full movement of the knee.
The knee is swollen, stiff and sore. There is bruising everywhere – centred around the graft site, down the inner side of the leg and further down near the ankle, the result of pooled fluid from swelling. The knee brace presses on all the bruised places and is just plain uncomfortable! It’s not a fun time but it doesn’t last forever – thank goodness.
I went back to physio a couple of days after my operation and it was hard. Mentally hard as much as being physically hard. It hurt to actually get into the car. Every bump on the way jarred my knee. Then when I got there my bandages were removed and I had to work through my fear and move my knee. That first attempt terrified me.
The first visit was all about helping my knee regain a little movement, reduce the swelling and gently massage & activate muscles that had been inactive for a while. In the weeks since, the visits have involved more work and more movement exercises, designed to improve movement and strength in the whole leg.
I attend physio twice a week and each session takes about 2 hours. I then spend at least one hour each day completing my exercises in between visits. The aim is to regain full movement and normal gait. By the end of the year I hope to be able to walk normally and even start walking with pace again.
I may even be able to recommence jogging in the new year, although tennis won’t be on the horizon until next September. The knee will need a full year to recover and for the new ligament to be strong enough to withstand the rigours of full-on sport again.
In the meantime I’m making progress. My physio says I’m a week ahead of schedule so far and has given his okay for me to start driving again. I had my first drive today and felt no pain or discomfort at all. I just need to work on my stamina which will come in time, particularly if I continue to be diligent with my exercises.
I’m beginning to walk up stairs properly now, although the knee still feels stiff and sore and unnatural as I climb stairs. Walking down stairs properly is still a week or two away – it’s a little more challenging on my knee and my leg as a whole.
But at least I’m making progress. One month on and I can see there will be an end. One day.
But for now, I’m committed to do all I can to improve and reclaim my independence.
And to one day walk without a limp again!
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