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Mental Recovery from ACL Surgery: Celebrate your Proofs

One of the hardest aspects regarding ACL surgery and the ACL surgery recovery process is 100% mental. The pain is difficult but it subsides and most athletes can deal with the pain and the agony around it. But having your daily life turned upside and completely stopped is very hard to deal with. Many athletes deal with depression, loss of self-identity, anxiety, problems with relationships, feeling alone and many other things. Relying on others to help you with everything is not only challenging but frustrating and as most athletes are extremely independent and goal driven these can be huge challenges to work through.  Attending work and school on crutches is not easy and not fun and even worse being unable to train for your sport, go to the grocery store, or even go on a hike can make even the toughest athletes break down.

The day to day struggle is where many people can lose their positive mindset. It seems like a very slow process and the progress you are making is small and hard to recognize during the process.  One of the biggest things that helped me was to focus on celebrating my “proofs”.  I labeled my proof of recovery as anything positive that happens each day during the road to recovery.  At first they might only be little things like you were able to sleep through the night for the first time or you gained full extension at your knee for the first time. Write these down! Create a proof board. It can be a list or a colorful poster board or even just a memo in your phone but write down every single positive thing that happens or accomplishment.  Here are some examples for the proof board from my last surgery.


I crutched up four flights of stairs right after surgery to get to my apartment.

I did 30 quad sets and hamstring stretches on Day 1.

I had a healthy dinner with my mom and we watched a good movie.

My friend came to visit me.

I completed my first day of physical therapy.

My upper body strength helps making crutching easier.

I did my first modified plank.

I went paddle boarding and it was easy.

I did my first modified squat.

I ditched my last crutch.

I went back to work.

It might seem silly to list such small and mundane accomplishments, especially for an athlete who is used to having much larger goals to strive for; but there will be days when you are feeling sad, mad, and alone. These are the days where you will need to pull out your proof board and read to yourself all of the positive things to show yourself all of the progress that you have made.  Appreciate your progress, celebrate your progress.  It is so easy to accidentally think about what you cannot do and how far you still have to go in order to recover but the proof board is one of the best ways to keep your mind focused on the present moment and the progress that you make daily to get you through this hardship. Stay focused and stay positive in the moment and you will be just fine with your recovery!