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When is it time to think about knee ACL reconstruction surgery?

You may need ACL reconstruction surgery if you are experiencing knee pain, instability, or have the inability to perform sport activities. These symptoms may be caused by your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) being damaged or torn. This ligament keeps your shin bone (tibia) from sliding forward when stopping quickly or changing your direction. The purpose of reconstructing the ligament is to restore the strength and function of your knee as well as stabilizing the knee joint.

Knee ACL Reconstruction Surgery


About the Surgery

ACL reconstruction surgery involves the doctor making a few small incisions around the knee as well as a 2-4 inch incision for the ligament graft placement. This is an outpatient procedure done under a general anesthesia and possibly a nerve block and takes approximately 1 ½ hours for the doctor to perform. An arthroscope camera is used to visualize the damaged ligament and surrounding cartilage which will be removed. Small tunnels are then drilled into the femur (thigh) and tibia (shin) bones and the ligament is reconstructed by taking a piece of tendon from a different part of your body (autograft) or from a cadaver donor (allograft). This graft is brought through the bone tunnels made by the doctor and secured with bioabsorbable staples or screws. Your incisions will be closed with sutures and a bulky dressing is applied.

You will awake in the recovery room with an IV and a hinged knee brace in place. Once you are awake and taking fluids the IV will be removed and you will be discharged home.

Preparing for Surgery

Pre-admission testing (lab work) will be scheduled prior to your surgery. You are encouraged to stop smoking before surgery to prevent lung complications or delayed healing. Medications such as anti-inflammatory medications, aspirin, and blood thinning medications should be stopped one week before surgery unless otherwise specified by your family doctor.

What to Expect After Surgery

You may be up walking with your hinged knee brace on and using crutches putting partial weight on the knee or as instructed by your doctor. Applying ice and elevating your knee is important for controlling pain and swelling. Begin doing your knee exercises the day following surgery. Physical therapy will be ordered during your first postop visit 7-10 days after surgery.

Recovery Period

The average recovery period for ACL reconstruction surgery is 4-6 mos. You can return to work or school when you are comfortable and you can be sedentary.

Patient Education Sheets

For additional information about this procedure, including post-op instructions and exercises, we have included this complete patient eduction sheet as a pdf to view, download and print:

Knee Specialists