Recovery from ACL Surgery
After anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, move your ankles up and down an average of 10 times every 10 minutes. Continue this exercise for two to three days to help blood circulation and to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs. If you develop acute pain in the back of your calf, tell your doctor. This could be an early sign of clots.
Keep your operated leg elevated at a minimum of a 45-degree angle. Prop your leg on cushions or pillows so your knee is at least 12 inches above your heart for the first three to five days after surgery. Keep your leg elevated if your knee swells or throbs when you are up and about on crutches. Don't put pillows behind your knee because this limits motion of the knee. Place pillows under your heel and calf.
Take pain medication
Expected pain and discomfort for the first few days. Take pain medications as your doctor advises. These could be over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or stronger narcotic drugs.
Slowly begin bending your knee. Straighten your leg and bend your knee. If necessary, place your hands behind your knee for assistance bending your knee. The goal is to achieve a range of motion of 0 to 90 degrees by the time you return for your first post-operative visit a week after surgery.
Monitor for fever
A low-grade fever – up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 Celsius – is common for four or five days after surgery. If your temperature is higher or lasts longer, tell your doctor. Your temperature should go down with acetaminophen.
The dressing on your knee is usually removed the day after surgery. There may be some minor fluid drainage for two days. Sterile dressings or bandages may be used during this time. After surgery, keep the wound clean and dry. Take sponge baths until the sutures are removed.
Your rehabilitation program to restore range of motion to your knee begins the moment you wake up in the recovery room. During the first week after surgery, most patients are encouraged to lift their legs without assistance while lying on their backs. These are called straight leg raises. By the end of the second or third week, patients usually walk without crutches.
Sessions with a physical therapist usually begin seven to 14 days after surgery. During physical therapy, weight bearing is allowed if you did not have a meniscus repair.
A range of motion of 0 to 140 degrees is a good goal for the first two months.
Don't work your quadriceps early on because this can stretch the ACL graft. Stationery bike riding or lightweight leg presses are recommended during the first three months after surgery. These exercises strengthen the quadriceps while using the hamstrings to protect the ACL graft.
Don't swim or run for five months. You can swim with your arms, without paddling your feet, at about two to three months after surgery.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.
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