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Stay Slow: Why Safe ACL Rehab Progression are Essential

The first 2 months after ACL surgery are the most important regarding the function, range of motion, and longevity of your knee. Many people try to rush their recovery and ditch their crutches too soon or attempt to do too much on their knee too soon. This is something you should take very seriously because in an ACL reconstruction a surgeon uses a new graft from one of your tendons or from a donor tissue, and uses it to create your new ACL. At first, this tissue is new and has not adhered to your body. Overdoing it after ACL surgery creates the possibility for this new graft to stretch out and not heal appropriately. Another concern with progressing yourself too quickly is increased swelling. Swelling is one of the main reasons for muscle weakness and atrophy after surgery, and increased swelling can lead to decreased range of motion and mobility.

In the first 2 months after ACL surgery, the biggest priority is gaining full extension (or straightening ability) at the knee and keeping the swelling down. If those 2 simple things are not accomplished then it will be difficult to gain strength and function, and you will be more prone to scar tissue and arthritic problems in the knee long term.

As a young high school athlete, eager to return to sport, it was very hard for me to stay slow during the process of rehabilitation and take my time. My athletic mindset drove me to want to conquer all obstacles quickly and race through my rehabilitation, but it is so crucial to remember this is a rehab journey. The goal isn’t to progress as fast as possible; the goal is to heal the knee joint as efficiently and safely as possible. Try your best to focus on each day in the moment and do not race yourself to achieve each goal. Every recovery timeline is different based on many factors. Listen to your body and allow your knee the resting and healing time it deserves. This is not a contest. This is the long term health of your knee. This is a big deal.