ACL Surgery and My Cross Country Season

by Afton

I tore my ACL about a month ago playing lacrosse, and I'm scheduled for reconstructive surgery in about two weeks. The MRI showed some meniscus damage as well. I'm 16 and was hoping to run cross country in 4-5 months; surgery is a definite setback.

Should I go through with cross country this fall? Should I run with the team but not compete? Season starts right when school does. What is the likelihood of redamaging my ACL?

Answer by Dominique:

acl surgery recovery
Hi there,
Thank you for your question regarding your upcoming ACL reconstruction. The ACL (=anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the big ligaments around the knee joint. It plays an important part in stabilization of the knee.

Recovery after an ACL reconstruction surgery is a gradual process that typically takes several months. While individual experiences may vary, I can provide you with a general overview of what to expect during the recovery period.

1. Early stages (first few days to weeks)
2. Intermediate stages (weeks to a few months)
3. Advanced stages (a few months to a year)
4. Staying fit while you are recovering

Early Stages

  • Pain management - You may experience pain, swelling, and discomfort immediately after surgery. Pain medications prescribed by your doctor can help manage this.

  • Immobilization - You may need to wear a knee brace or use crutches initially to protect the surgical site and assist with mobility.

  • Physical therapy - Soon after surgery, you'll begin physical therapy exercises to restore range of motion, strengthen the muscles around the knee, and improve stability.

  • Intermediate Stages

    acl surgery recovery
  • Rehabilitation - Physical therapy will continue, focusing on progressive exercises to regain strength, balance, and coordination. This stage aims to restore functional abilities and prepare you for more demanding activities.

  • Return to normal activities - Depending on individual progress, you may gradually increase weight-bearing and engage in light activities such as swimming or cycling.

  • Follow-up appointments - Regular visits to your surgeon and physical therapist are important to monitor your progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

  • Advanced Stages

  • Sports-specific training - If you participate in sports or other high-demand activities, your physical therapist may incorporate exercises tailored to your specific needs and goals.

  • Full recovery - Typically, it takes around 6 to 9 months for most people to regain full range of motion, strength, and stability in the knee. However, returning to pre-injury performance levels may take longer.

  • Staying Fit While You Are Recovering

    acl surgery recovery
    During the recovery process, it's crucial to maintain overall fitness and prevent deconditioning. Here are some activities that can help you stay fit while recovering from ACL reconstruction:

  • Low-impact exercises - Engage in low-impact activities such as swimming, stationary cycling, or using an elliptical machine. These exercises are gentle on the knee joint while improving cardiovascular fitness.
  • Strengthening exercises - Perform exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles around the knee, including quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Your physical therapist can guide you through a range of exercises tailored to your needs.
  • Upper body and core workouts - Since you may have some restrictions on lower body activities during the early stages, you can maintain overall fitness by incorporating upper body and core exercises like weightlifting or Pilates.
  • Balance and stability training - Work on exercises that enhance balance and stability, as these are essential for preventing future injuries and improving knee function.

    So, as you see, you could possibly start getting back to reasonably normal activity levels in 3-4 months. For many people this is generally the case, but your individual circumstances may make your recovery period longer.

    Work with the doctor who is treating you and try to understand what you can and cannot do. Not being able to run is a setback, but that does not mean that you need to sit still. There may be other types of sports you are still allowed to do that help your legs get stronger and help you maintain your fitness levels.

    After full recovery you should have a fully functioning knee again. Don't blow it by wanting to rush back into running. I understand that cross country can be important to you, but you will need that knee for a bit longer than the next cross country season! So, work with your doctor and make sure you make full recovery before you throw yourself into some crazy running training program. And, lastly, you are still young. You have a lifetime of running ahead of you. Maybe this surgery means you may not be able to participate in cross-country next season, but there will be many more seasons and years to run!

    Best of luck with the surgery. I hope you will make a speedy recovery.
    Kind regards,

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