The 5 Harsh Realities of ACL Reconstruction

ACL recovery day 1

Day 1 – First Physio Appointment

12 weeks post-op from ACL reconstructive surgery today. It’s a huge milestone for those who’ve had the operation. More than anything, this ordeal has been an unbelievable learning experience. Below are five of the real truths that I had to learn myself. If you’re going through the surgery, I hope you can make peace with some, if not all of them.


Life doesn’t stop just because your leg did

I was praised for my strategic plan to have my surgery in January, during the middle of the harshest winter Toronto has seen in years.

‘You’ll want to be inside anyway’

‘Who wants to deal with that horrible weather, this is the best time to be off’

‘There are so many risks with slipping, you’re much better off to use the time to focus on the recovery’

It’s all true. But despite all that, you have to come to the realization that life doesn’t stop for people around you. I missed birthdays. I missed the Super Bowl. I missed saying an important good bye in person, something I can never undo. Realize that these things are going to happen and plan for them.


ACL leg after surgery

Left Leg 2 weeks post-op

Even the most patient person will snap at the people they love

My mother is my hero. She has also one of the two women in my life who shouldered the burden of taking care of me. The day after my operation, she was carting me off to my first physio therapy session while she was on a conference call. I grew irritated (side effect of the lack of sleep, and the pain) at her divided attention and when she accidentally jammed my leg, I screamed bloody murder.

It’s awful to snap at the people who are helping you. They often get caught in the cross-fire because during times like these, they’re the ones that are around. Understand that you’re human and you make mistakes, but work hard to see just how much those around you are putting in. It’ll help quell whatever irritation you may be feeling.


ACL range of motion

Day 5, reached 84 degrees of bend (two week target is 90)

The road ahead looks daunting for even the most optimistic

I’m an optimist to a fault. My glass is half full, even when there’s a hole in the bottom. But I have to admit, thinking about ‘recovery’ in terms of a full year is hard to mentally overcome. Everyone who’s asked me how I’ve progressed has heard me mutter ‘I’m doing better, one day at a time’. It’s true, but it’s also a message I’m giving to myself. Take this in strides, soon you’ll take strides.

It’s very tough to look at your current state and think about the road ahead. It’s long, there will be setbacks (atrophy among other things), and all the while you’ll have to work harder than everyone else. Understand this to be your truth, accept it, and do whatever you need to, to motivate you. For me, that means taking it one day at a time. Before long, your progress adds up and the days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months.


You over-think everything your muscles do

I cannot overstate how much of this injury is mental. You forget how to use your muscles, and for many of us, our quads had to be shocked back to life after surgery. But the operation does a number on your brain as well. You learn to favour your good leg, protect your bag leg and avoid movements that have caused you pain in the past. This is not good. Especially when you’re trying to build the muscle again, you can’t coddle it. How many of us are told by our PTs that we’re babying the knee with the prolonged use of crutches? Push yourself to stand properly, shift your weight regularly and consciously do activities that pose a challenge like walking down stairs.

The little actions you do every day will have huge impacts on your recovery.


ACL knee brace

Beauty and the Brace, going to physio with this on for the first month was tough

You expect people to understand

What you’ve gone through from injury to recovery is surreal. From the responsibilities of your ligaments to the healing time of your own body, you’ll swear it to be a miracle. And so will the people around you. But then, time goes by, your progress will become expected rather than celebrated, and before long, you’ll be walking normally. And at that point, people around you will cease to understand what you’re going through. There will be expectations because you’re ‘healed’ and the worst is past you. Nothing short of being in your body will bring about that understanding. By and large, those around you aren’t being insensitive; seeing is believing. Just remember that you’re the best judge of your limitations, and you’re the one who will have to pay the consequences if you misjudge your abilities.

These five truths aren’t meant to depress, they’re meant to prepare. They were the five notions or behaviours that most surprised, shocked and perplexed me and I’m hoping this helps you cope with them as you continue down your road to recovery. I’m 12 weeks post-op today and (aside from my left quad being the size of my calf) I have returned to almost complete mobility in day to day life. There are still hard days, awkward pains and limitations inside/outside of physio. But I’ll take them in stride and motivate myself from the progress of others. Here’s hoping I get to read your success story soon.



ACL pre-surgery

An hour before surgery, looking like I snuck some morphine already.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.