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It always surprises me how quickly you’re encouraged to walk after ACL surgery. It depends on the individual and the surgeon to a great extent. But usually, you’re encouraged to get up and start walking almost immediately post-op.
This may be exciting news to some people and shocking news to others. We’re all different. And being different means we have different expectations and goals. But one thing’s for sure. If you’re undergoing ACL surgery, you’re probably keen to get active again ASAP. Am I right?
You may be wondering “How long after ACL surgery can you walk?”
If so, this post is for you. You’ll discover how to get back to walking at a rate that works best for you. We’ll also look at recovery time and what it’ll be like when resuming a more normal level of activity after ACL injury.
Remember: It’s Reconstructive Surgery
It’s critical to know that recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear is no small feat. The mechanism which caused the injury was likely very severe, as the ligaments in the knee can withstand a lot. Usually, an ACL tear is down to a sudden wrench action or turning the knee sharply the wrong way.
With this, the recovery process is something to be gentle but consistent with.
Yes, the ligament has been repaired, but the surrounding tissues will be bruised, and the graft site (if you are receiving an autograft) and the knee itself will likely be very sore and swollen. So remember, you’ve had major surgery on your knee. Taking things slow and steady is what you need at this time.
Taking on too much at once may result in potential risks, setting you back further than ever before.
Day of Surgery
Depending on the time of day of your surgery, you may be prompted to stand up the very same day. If you have surgery early morning, let’s say, your rehabilitation program will perhaps start the following day. At this point, it’s more about standing up and moving as much as you are able, rather than walking great distances.
It’ll also depend on you and your fitness levels and how you feel about yourself. Once the general anesthesia wears off, you’ll have more of an idea of your condition.
My best advice is to push yourself a bit once you’re under the support of a professional. You might feel like sleeping all day. But the best thing for your knee is to move.
Even tiny amounts of knee bends or straight leg raises will help, but of course, do so under the guidance of the rehabilitation professionals initially to ensure proper form.
The First Week
It’s always tough when you’ve had open surgery and even minimally invasive surgery. You’ll perhaps be on some heavy pain medication and there will be swelling and soreness at the operation site. Follow all medical advice given to you during these early days.
But! Don’t be alarmed if you’re kicked out of bed the same day as your operation! Young athletes in particular – this will probably be your experience.
A physical therapist (or physiotherapist) may instruct you to stand the very same day as your surgery, if not the day after. I would expect they’d offer you crutches or, at the very least, the bed rail to hold onto depending on the protocol provided by the surgeon.
What they are looking for is effort on your part.
At this early stage, they’re certainly not looking for a full range of motion.
So take things easy. But give yourself a little push to stand up and put weight on the operated leg (again deferring to your surgeon’s protocol for your specific situation). Part of the early ACL rehab process is keeping as active as possible so you don’t lose too much muscle strength being laid up in bed.
Standing and weight-bearing (as well as movement in general) also help stop blood clots in the lower leg, so it really is necessary to get moving – within reason – as quickly as possible.
It isn’t a straight line when it comes to the rehabilitation process which facilitates the healing after an ACL reconstruction surgery. As I’ve said, every body is different. Bodies heal at different rates and there are a lot of factors that go into ACL surgery recovery.
Always go with what the specialists advise you to do. Needless to say, look after yourself also – only you know the pain you might feel or the tingling or numbness in the knee which may require a different treatment plan.
Rehabilitation exercises are on the whole, very safe and very necessary. There are numerous non-weight bearing exercises as well as full weight once the swelling and pain have subsided. A stationary bike is an example of a great form of non impact exercise which will help keep muscle condition and strengthen the knee joint without jarring the new ligament.
Do trust the therapists who help you. Be open to their specific instructions and also the guidance of your orthopedic surgeon if applicable.
A successful rehabilitation program would undoubtedly mean you can complete as full a range of motion as practicable, given time, specific exercises, and equal amounts of rest and relaxation.
Resuming normal everyday activities and a healthy lifestyle is the aim, but how long this takes is up to you and your rehab program. I hope this post gives you some constructive guidance on ACL surgery.
How long after ACL surgery can you walk?
There really is no black-or-white answer to “How long after ACL surgery can you walk” as every knee is different, as is every circumstance. When you meet with the surgeon post-surgery that is generally when they provide the surgeon’s “protocol” to you which outlines when you are able to start completing various tasks, like walking, jogging, etc. The protocol will also include a “weight-bearing status” that will dictate how long you need to keep weight off your operated leg or when you are expected to complete tasks fully weight-bearing.
Additionally, this protocol will outline what the prognosis is for your return to sports if you are an athlete or your regular level of activity in general.
My best advice is to follow your outpatient procedure protocol carefully, rest appropriately, and commit to doing a physical therapy program rigorously for the best outcomes.
You’ll be walking in no time, rest assured. If you’d like to read more posts, check out these ones.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.