Understanding ACL Injury Treatment, Surgery, and Recovery

understanding acl surgery

What is an ACL injury?

An ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury can significantly impact mobility and require careful consideration regarding treatment options. Let's explore the intricacies of ACL damage, various treatment modalities, and the healing process. ACL injuries have a profound effect on everyday living and movement. It's important to comprehend the complexity of ACL injuries, whether they result from accidents, unexpected movements, or sports-related incidents.

From different injury types to treatment options and the journey of recovery, this guide aims to navigate through the nuances of ACL injuries. By shedding light on surgical and non-surgical approaches, red flags post-surgery, and the prospects of returning to regular activities, we aim to empower individuals with knowledge that fosters informed decisions and confident recoveries. Join us as we explore the world of ACL injuries, their treatments, and the path to reclaiming a fulfilling and active lifestyle post-injury.

Different Types of ACL Injuries

Understanding the types—partial tears, complete tears, and sprains—can guide treatment decisions and recovery expectations.

There are different types of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries:

  • Grade 1: The ACL is stretched and experiences mild damage. This injury can be treated with immobilization, bracing, and physical therapy.
  • Grade 2: The ACL is stretched and becomes loose. This injury is sometimes called a partial tear, but it's quite rare.
  • Grade 3: The ACL is split into two pieces, and the knee is unstable. This injury is commonly referred to as a complete ligament tear.

Other types of ACL tear injuries include:

  • Sprains
  • Avulsion fractures
  • ACL deficiencies
  • Complex ligament injuries

There are four commonly used grafts for ACL reconstruction:

  • Patellar tendon autograft
  • Hamstring tendon autograft
  • Quadriceps tendon autograft
  • Allograft

Do All Types of ACL Injuries Require Surgery?

Not all ACL injuries demand surgical intervention. Several factors, including the extent of the tear, the patient's lifestyle, degree of exercise, and personal preferences, are important in evaluating whether surgery is required. There are three grades for ACL injuries: 1, 2, and 3. Treatment options may include non-operative or surgical procedures, depending on the patient's age and level of athleticism. The choice to undergo surgery for ACL tear is influenced by several variables, such as:

  • The severity of the injury
  • Other knee damage
  • Quality of life
  • Activity level

ACL tears are graded by severity and are called sprains. A grade 1 ACL sprain occurs when the ACL is overstretched but not torn. Surgery is usually recommended for:

  • Combined injuries
  • Competitive athletes who need to return to their sport at a high level

If your knee feels stable and you don't have an active lifestyle, you may decide not to have surgery.

When Should You Require A Surgery?

While surgery might not be mandatory for every ACL injury, certain conditions warrant surgical intervention. Explore the red flags and indications that signal the need for ACL reconstruction recovery surgery.

Resuming Normal Lifestyle Post-ACL Surgery

Recovery after ACL surgery involves a phased approach. Understanding the stages, rehabilitation exercises, and expected timeline empowers individuals to return to their daily activities gradually.

After ACL surgery, you can expect to:

  • Walk unassisted: Within 2–4 weeks, but only for short periods
  • Return to work: Within 1–2 weeks if you sit at work, 4–6 weeks if you're on your feet, or 4–6 months if you're very active
  • Run again: Within 10–16 weeks, depending on pain, swelling, movement, strength, and control
  • Fully recover: Within 6–12 months, or longer with physical therapy

Here are some tips for returning to a normal lifestyle after ACL surgery:

  • Use crutches to walk and prevent falls for the first few days
  • Avoid prolonged standing or walking for 7–10 days
  • Avoid long periods of sitting without elevating your leg for 2 weeks
  • Follow your rehabilitation plan
  • Manage pain and swelling
  • Gradually return to activities
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Take pain medications as prescribed

Can we have a normal lifestyle after ACL surgery?

The journey post-ACL surgery isn't just about physical healing but also mental resilience. Exploring strategies, guidance, and timelines aids in regaining confidence and resuming normalcy. These tests let your physical therapist know that you are progressing well and recovering knee function after the surgery. For most people, full recovery can happen rather quickly. “Typically, by that 3-month mark, you're pretty much back to your normal daily life,” says Vignona. Your knee might not be the same as it was before the injury, though. The replacement ligament may continue to expand and cause you pain.

Regaining 100% can take up to two years for some people. Following surgery, your physical therapist will usually ask you to complete certain tests six weeks, twelve weeks, six months, and nine months later. These tests let your physical therapist know that you are progressing well and regaining knee function. You can treat the swelling with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (known as the RICE protocol).


Understanding the nuances of ACL injuries, treatment options, and recovery phases can empower individuals to make informed decisions. With proper guidance and support, the path to recovery after an ACL injury becomes more manageable. Navigating an ACL injury treatment journey involves a combination of understanding the injury's complexity, considering treatment options, and embracing the recovery process.

Whether surgery becomes a necessity or rehabilitation suffices, the road to regaining mobility and normalcy requires patience, dedication, and professional guidance. By staying vigilant about bad signs after ACL surgery, embracing rehabilitation exercises, and gradually reintegrating into daily activities, individuals can embark on a path towards a strong and confident recovery post-ACL injury. Remember, knowledge and a proactive approach play pivotal roles in not just healing the physical aspect but also in nurturing mental resilience.