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Here’s what injured footballers can expect when recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery.
Rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a common injury among footballers at all levels. Last year, the high number of ACL injuries among Premier League players even attracted widespread attention in the press and on social media1.
If you are due to have, or have recently undergone, ACL reconstruction surgery on your knee you are probably focusing on thinking about your recovery. Returning to the beautiful game after such a serious injury and major surgery takes time, patience and rehabilitation with physiotherapy.
Our Sports Injury Clinics offer specialist services for amateur and professional athletes to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate a range of sports-related injuries including ACL tears. If your number one goal is to get fighting fit and make your comeback to the football pitch, get informed on what to expect in the months following your ACL surgery by reading our advice.
First two weeks after surgery
Immediately after the operation your knee will be very swollen. Phase one of your rehabilitation will focus on reducing this swelling as quickly as possible – ice and compression are widely used at this stage and this can also help to manage the pain.
Once the swelling has gone down sufficiently your physiotherapist will give you some light exercises which work the muscles around the knee2 without having to move your leg.
Two to six weeks after surgery
By phase two of your rehabilitation the swelling around your knee should have disappeared.
However, the tissue graft inserted during your ACL reconstruction surgery is usually weak around this time meaning the ligament may only be able to handle very light therapeutic exercises.
You should be able to walk normally within six weeks of your operation2.
Six to twelve weeks after surgery
A few months on from your surgery your knee will be stronger and able to handle more pressure and more strenuous exercises. You will probably be able to do non weight-bearing sports such as swimming and cycling. This will enable you to build up the muscles in your knee without putting too much strain on the ACL, helping to counteract the loss of conditioning as a result of taking time away from regular training2.
Three to six months after surgery
This phase of your recovery is all about you getting back to full strength and the pace needs to be set by you. By this point your physiotherapy exercises should have given you total use of your knee with the full range of movement, but there may still be some pain that you need to manage. Many footballers will feel able to return to running at this point, but your physiotherapist may ensure you can pass four functional tests before giving you the go-ahead to run3.
The point at which you are ready to return to playing football depends on the strength and stability of your knee.
Your physio will want to make sure you don’t feel pain in your knee when you run and that there is no swelling. You will be cleared to play when you have a full range of motion with good stability and your injured knee is as strong as the opposite side3.
The risks of returning too soon
It’s important that you only return to sport when your body is completely ready as there’s a high risk of re-tearing your ACL if you demand too much of your knee before it’s ready3. For many people there are risks involved in returning to football less than 12 months after surgery, but you should be able to do some gentle exercise and sport after around six months. The precise length of time it takes to recover varies between individuals, and the most important thing to consider is whether you feel ready to start playing again.
A good physiotherapy rehab program is just as important as having had a successful operation when it comes to ACL surgery. The emphasis is on the footballer taking an active part in the rehab program to ensure a safe and successful return to sport.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 or make an online enquiry.