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What to Expect During and After ACL Reconstruction

Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or someone who simply needs to get around the streets of New York City, having well-functioning knees is paramount. When you tear your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), your ability to move freely is compromised, which is where ACL reconstruction surgery can help.

Whether you’ve already made the decision to undergo this surgery or you’re debating your options, board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Schell and our team want to make sure you understand the procedure from start to finish.

If you have an ACL tear that can benefit from reconstructive surgery at our practice, Wiliam Schell, MD, here’s what you can expect during and after this knee-preserving procedure.

During your ACL reconstruction surgery

As you likely already know, your ACL is a ligament located in the middle of your knee, and it provides stability within the joint. If you tear this ligament, your knee can become unstable and painful.

If we’ve found that your tear is significant enough to warrant reconstruction, here’s what you can expect during this outpatient procedure.

First, we make you comfortable with general anesthesia so that you won’t feel a thing during your procedure. Dr. Schell makes very small incisions around your knee and uses a lighted camera (laparoscope) and specialized instruments to remove a piece of healthy tendon from your leg (tendons are connective tissues that attach muscles to bone).

Once he has the graft, Dr. Schell drills tiny holes into both your thighbone and shinbone and removes the torn ACL. He then threads the graft through the holes, positions the tissue, and secures it into place.

With your new “ACL” firmly in place, Dr. Schell sutures the small incisions and your ACL reconstruction is complete.

After your ACL reconstruction surgery

It used to be that we would wait a few days after surgery to begin testing the new graft, but we now know that the sooner we get started, the better your outcome. On the day of or day after your surgery, we want you to begin gently exercising your knee with specific exercises that we provide you.

We may outfit you with crutches, at first, so that we can gradually increase the weight-bearing loads on your knee.

For the first few months after your ACL reconstruction survey, physical therapy will be key to restoring function to your knee, so we recommend that you follow this regimen closely.

During the first two weeks, we concentrate on extension. Once you’re able to extend your leg fully, we turn our attention to flexion.

Over the weeks and months following your ACL reconstruction surgery, we gradually work on strengthening your knee and increasing range of motion while also allowing ample time for your graft to heal in place properly.

We know that you’ll be anxious to get back to your active lifestyle, but patience is critical during this time. Most of our patients can resume their normal activities within a few weeks or a month after surgery. When it comes to more active pursuits, however, the timeline is longer.

Depending on your sport of choice, we don’t usually clear athletes until 6-9 months after surgery to prevent the risk of damaging the reconstruction.

Please note that these timelines are more like basic guidelines, and your return to full function may vary.

If you have more questions about what to expect during and after your ACL reconstruction surgery, please contact our Upper West Side office, which is located at Columbus Circle.

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