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Recovering From an ACL Injury

As an avid soccer player, I’ve seen my share of sprains and bruises over the many years that I’ve played the sport. Luckily, recovery time was always minimal so I didn’t have to experience the extremely hard physical and mental work of recovering from a more serious injury. That was true until a few years ago when I had my 1st of two complete ACL tears in my left knee.

When I look back and compare the two ACL injuries, I have to admit that the 2nd was the hardest to cope with mentally when it happened but, at the same time was much easier to cope with the rehabilitation process.

For those of you that don’t know, the basic rehab process of a typical ACL injury is as follows:

The first few days after surgery are all about preventing infection of the wound and trying to control swelling. You’ll come back from outpatient surgery with the wound properly covered, and plenty of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds in your system. I didn’t have any problems during either surgery and was feeling pretty good within a few hours of having come back home.

The next phase of recovering from an ACL injury includes doing basic exercises that are designed to limit atrophy (the losing of muscle mass) and to keep the blood flowing in an effort to help reduce the swelling. It’s pretty amazing, but in both cases I was doing basic exercises within a day of having surgery. When I say basic, I mean really basic. We’re talking about doing 3 sets of straight leg raises with no weight. 3 sets for the quads, 3 for the inner thighs, 3 for outer thighs and 3 for the hamstring. Keep in mind that no matter what basic exercises you do, it’s impossible to avoid muscle atrophy. After both ACL surgeries, my leg started looking more like a toothpick than a soccer player’s leg . It’s no big deal though, you just have to work harder at building muscle mass later on in the rehab process.

The next phase of the ACL rehab process will be trying to recover your range of motion back to levels from before your ACL injury. This will be a gradual effort as you’ll be given different exercises focusing on straightening and bending your knee. This is where I really struggled with both ACL injuries. While I would see others who would achieve full range of motion in weeks, I seemed to always be struggling and would get easily frustrated at first. I finally accepted that each of us is different and that there is no standard time frame for each phase in the recovery process. So I kept working and although it was painful at times, I was determined to achieve full range of motion. Eventually, I did.

Depending on your progress, at some point you’ll get the go ahead to start with some light jogging during your rehab sessions. This is always a major milestone and really is a cause for celebration. I was so happy to be able to jog again (even though the tread mill was on a speed of 4), it really makes you appreciate the gift of running.