I do not want to bore you with daily posts about my recovery. I remember, though, how much I wanted to know about everyone else’s recovery before the surgery, so I would know what I might expect. This will be a single repository, chronicling what I was capable of doing after surgery.
Day 2: I started my physical therapy exercises today – toe flexing/extending, quadricep contractions, straight leg lifts, and towel extensions. I also removed the bandages.
Day 3: I showered for the first time today, sitting on a plastic chair that a friend had loaned me.
Day 4: I took a few cautious steps without crutches today, still wearing the brace, of course. I also made my first trips out of the house to pick up my handicap parking pass and have dinner with my husband at a restaurant.
Day 5: I quit all narcotics and transitioned to NSAIDs.
Day 7: I’m walking well enough to make dinner for myself.
Day 8: I had my first post-op checkup with my surgeon, stopped wearing my leg brace, and saw my physical therapist for the first time after surgery. My PT confirmed that I have full extension and 90 degrees range of motion (ROM). I was also able to shower standing up!
Day 9: I’m pretty much walking without crutches all the time at this point. After trying to ride the bus with crutches, I abandoned them all together.
Day 10: I started driving. I probably could have driven to my post-op appointment a few days ago, but thought it might look bad.
Day 12: I got in the pool for my first post-op workout and swam 500 yards.
Week 2: At the end of this week, I have -3 degrees of extension and 110 degrees ROM.
Week 3: I start strength training in earnest this week. My PT has me doing 330 squats a day! I also start training proprioception with one-leg balances on a foam pad. At the end of this week, I have 114 degrees ROM.
Week 4: I can really feel my body getting tight and unhappy. I go to my first post-op yoga class and start doing regular massage to help loosen things up. At the end of this week, I have 125 degrees ROM.
Week 5: This is a turning point in my recovery; three really great things happen: The PT puts me on a stationary bike for the first time. (My heart is singing!) I start tentatively walking down stairs holding onto a railing. It doesn’t feel good, but it doesn’t hurt anymore either. And I attend my first yoga class. At the end of this week, I have 128 degrees ROM.
Week 6: Except for the fact that I can now kneel on my bionic knee (on a soft surface) without any pain, I have hit a bit of a plateau. Swelling seems to be almost gone, which is good, but exercises remain the same, and are getting monotonous. At the end of the week, I have 133 degrees ROM.
Weeks 7-11: I end up in a holding pattern with what seems like little forward progress. ROM stabilizes at 138 degrees (about 10 less than my other leg). I can’t progress to dynamic movements yet, so I focus on transforming my wobbly Bambi legs by working on balance/proprioception and building strength in my legs and core. At week 10, I start seriously training on the bike for my spring tour. Twenty miles at 13.8 mph is slow as molasses, but it’s the most I’ve done since injuring my leg at the beginning of September.
Week 12: I’m an angry, fat weakling. I feel left out of all of the fun things my friends will be doing over the winter. Thank goodness my PT starts trying to kill me. We’re back to twice a week sessions involving squat jumps and mountain climbers and every other kind of torture she can throw at me. If I keep this up, I won’t be a fat weakling very long. Yay for jumping!
Week 13: I went on a hike on a rocky trail. Going up was fine, but I was a mess coming down. I had to go very slowly to keep my knee in line with my hips and ankle. My PT is continuing to try to kill me, which is good. I need all the help I can get. My PT massaged and broke up some tension in the patellar tendon (painful!) that she thought was causing my knee to lock itself straight occasionally. She also measured ROM at 140 degrees – barely more than it was at week 7. PT says she wants to wait another few weeks before tackling that. We’re also focusing a ton on hamstring strength to see if we can get this pain I’ve had in the medial hamstring on my affected side to finally go away.
Week 14: I needed a break from everything – the grey Seattle weather, feeling like I can’t do anything, the PT office, etc. – so my husband and I booked a last minute vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We snorkeled, released baby sea turtles into the ocean, went whale watching, surfed, sat on the beach, drank copious quantities of tequila, and rode ATVs. This is the closest I’ve felt to normal for four months. Back home in Seattle, I continued my training for my upcoming bike tour with a 52-mile ride. My knee looked like a grapefruit by dinner time, but it was so worth it.
Weeks 15-17: My PT decided that it was finally time to push for final, end-of-range motion. In each weekly session, we bent, stretched, tractioned, pushed, and otherwise cajoled my knee. We forgot to measure ROM before and after, but it will be interesting to see if it finally starts to improve. Exercises continue to include jumping for explosive power, squats for strength, and core work. (I love planks! Really I do!) I also start ramping up my sport specific training with longer bike rides (in the 30-50 mile range) and hikes with a weighted pack. With each bike ride, the swelling after each ride is progressively less.
Week 18: Finally (and this is a big thing), I started wearing high heels again! Exactly four months to the day from my injury, I popped on a pair of snakeskin pumps and they felt fine. Yahoo!
Week 19: A weird thing happened this week – my PT set me loose. “You know what to do,” she says. “Make sure you are working on your flexibility, strength, balance/agility and endurance. Once a week is fine to focus on the first three.” I honestly feel a bit unmoored. This is the fuzzy time in ACL recovery. I’m not cleared to return to full participation in skiing and climbing, but I can trail run and do other seemingly unstable activities. I’m not fully healed, but I’m not an injured person anymore. Where does that leave me?