ACL reconstruction - discharge
You had surgery to repair a damaged ligament in your knee called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This article tells you how to care for yourself when you go home from the hospital.
Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction - discharge
When You're in the Hospital
You had surgery to reconstruct your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The surgeon drilled holes in the bones of your knee and placed a new ligament through these holes. The new ligament was then attached to the bone. You may also have had surgery to repair other tissue in your knee.
What to Expect at Home
You may need help taking care of yourself when you first go home. Plan for a spouse, friend, or neighbor to help you. It can take from a few days to a few months to be ready to return to work. How soon you return to work will depend on the kind of work you do. It often takes 4 to 6 months to return to your full level of activity and take part in sports again after surgery.
Your health care provider will ask you to rest when you first go home. You will be told to:
You may need to wear special support stockings to help prevent blood clots from forming. Your provider will also give you exercises to keep the blood moving in your foot, ankle, and leg. These exercises will also lower your risk for blood clots.
You will need to use crutches when you go home. You may be able to begin putting your full weight on your repaired leg without crutches 2 to 3 weeks after surgery, if your surgeon says it is OK. If you had work on your knee in addition to ACL reconstruction, it may take 4 to 8 weeks to regain full use of your knee. Ask your surgeon how long you will need to be on crutches.
You may also need to wear a special knee brace. The brace will be set so that your knee can move only a certain amount in any direction. DO NOT change the settings on the brace yourself.
You will need to learn how to go up and down stairs using crutches or with a knee brace on.
Physical therapy most often begins about 1 to 2 weeks after surgery, however you can do some simple postoperative knee exercises immediately after surgery. The duration of physical therapy may last 2 to 6 months. You will need to limit your activity and movement while your knee mends. Your physical therapist will give you an exercise program to help you build strength in your knee and avoid injury.
You will go home with a dressing and an ace bandage around your knee. DO NOT remove them until the provider says it is OK. Until then, keep the dressing and bandage clean and dry.
You can shower again after your dressing is removed.
If you need to change your dressing for any reason, put the ace bandage back on over the new dressing. Wrap the ace bandage loosely around your knee. Start from the calf and wrap it around your leg and knee. DO NOT wrap it too tightly. Keep wearing the ace bandage until your provider tells you it is OK to remove it.
Pain is normal after knee arthroscopy. It should ease up over time.
Your provider will give you a prescription for pain medicine. Get it filled when you go home so that you have it when you need it. Take your pain medicine when you start having pain so the pain doesn't get too bad.
You may have received a nerve block during surgery, so that your nerves do not feel pain. Make sure you take your pain medicine, even when the block is working. The block will wear off, and pain can return very quickly.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or another medicine like it may also help. Ask your provider what other medicines are safe to take with your pain medicine.
DO NOT drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicine. This medicine may make you too sleepy to drive safely.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider if:
Micheo WF, Sepulveda F, Sanchez LA, Amy E. Anterior cruciate ligament sprain. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 63.
Niska JA, Petrigliano FA, McAllister DR. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries (including revision). In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 98.
Phillips BB, Mihalko MJ. Arthroscopy of the lower extremity. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 51.
Review Date: 11/5/2018
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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