Recovery Timeline

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?


14 responses to “Recovery Timeline”

  1. Macca#6 says :

    Glad you are recovering well. Love this post and the way you put a timeline to it all.
    Being a full time sports man all my life my surgeon/specialist never gave me crutches or a brace saying I was in good health and my quads and calf muscles were strong enough (apart from the ACL). I was full weight bearing straight away, a bit shaky may I add but I have placed my faith in my specialists knowledge and it all seems fine. I’ve gone from pottering around to actually making dinner for my family yesterday. I will keep an eye on your posts and keep you updated on my progress, although I think I will skip your week 18… I don’t look good in heels!!!!!!!!

  2. Monique says :

    How high were your heels? I love wearing stilettos and just tore my left knee out, which may require total reconstruction. I’m very nervous about not being able to returning to my athletic lifestyle and not being able to add to my 5’3″ statue to go out on the town.

    • Carry Porter says :

      All of my heels are 2 1/2 – 3 inches high. You’ll be able to wear whatever you like once your knee heals. And not to worry about returning to your athletic lifestyle. I’m back to climbing big mountains, riding centuries, skiing, running, etc. my knee is doing great.

  3. Naomi says :

    Thank you for posting this! I have ACL reconstruction coming up and I was so lost about any specifics for what the recovery timeline looked like!

    I also live in Seattle, so I can definitely relate to how you mustve felt having to sit out of the winter festivities!

    Looking forward to getting back into sports and back in my heels come March! (hopefully 🙂 )

  4. Tracy Vanderhoef says :

    Thanks for posting – tomorrow will be 3 weeks post op and it’s nice to know what to look forward to – I think I’m doing ok – left the crutches behind and want to lose the brace permanently as well but doc says no………..I climb stairs without the brace but hold the railing – trying to alternate legs to help build strength –

    Didn’t know it would be 18 weeks until heels??? I’m fashionably challenged at work as I have to be professionally dressed – ughhhh!

    • Carry Porter says :

      I feel your pain! I’m an attorney and need to be professionally dressed as well. I used the injury as an excuse to pick up a couple pairs of fashionable flats and a new pair of pants (hemmed for flats).

      Everyone’s recovery is different. You may be in heels faster than I was. I remember that it really hurt to wear them before that. Good luck!

  5. Randa S says :

    Hey, your recovery sounds amazing!
    you said that in 2 weeks ur ROM was 110; im 1 week post-op, i saw my dr, and he told me to add 10 degrees every week, which feels like A LOOOOONG time to get to 110!
    I dont know how i feel about it, what do u think?

  6. Chio Rodriguez says :

    This makes me feel at ease! I have 15 weeks after my surgery to get my leg and knee stable enough for my wedding, those my shoes need to be worn!

  7. Jem says :

    I just read your blog after googling, wearing heels after ACL injury. I am 3 weeks down the road after injury, not even repair. I have a Grade 3 tear of the ACL and MCL, a subchondral fracture of the tibia plateau, tibial nerve damage and a host of other torn and damaged bits and bobs in my knee. I did it skiing! … Not even doing anything fun, I got off the chair lift, my left ski slipped on ice and took the right ski out, which spun my leg almost 180 degree underneath me. They found the fracture last week during an MRI. I have been walking about on it with a fixed brace for 2 weeks. I am now in a hinged flexi brace and on crutches, not allowed to drive, waiting for a CT appointment and a physio appointment. To say I am bored is an understatement. We have two beautiful weddings to go to this year and I am now looking for dresses I can wear flat shoes with as I know I won’t be wearing Heels 😦 … I am now scouring your blog for every bit of info I can find. Thanks for writing it .. Glad your recovery went well and I am pleased to hear you are back skiing.

  8. Dawn Pearce says :

    How high are your heels? What type of graft did you have? I have ACL reconstruction next week (post ski injury- 3 weeks ago) I finally have normal ROM back and am walking with brace – just in time to start all over after surgery.

    I have a decent collection of 120mm Christian Louboutin heels for weekend dinners….wondering if I should sell them and hope for the best by switching to 100mm heels. I’m not a blogger but please feel free to email me about your experience in heels after surgery and specifically what graft type you had. Thank you so much! Dawn.

    • Carry Porter says :

      I’m wearing the same height of heels now that I was wearing before surgery. You’ll be fine. It’ll probably take a few months to get back there, so incest in some cute flats in the meantime.

  9. Yusrina Bennett says :

    Very nice details. Did you use autograft or alligator? Did you have meniscus tear? Today is my 20days post op and my flexion is only 45 active and 90 passive. This Wednesday will be my first PT session. I can do leg extension up as normal leg and alsostraight leg raise. But my flexion is bad. I just started Working on it at day 10. Any advise? Thank you.

  10. feneute says :

    Thank you so much for this. I just torn my ACL 4 days ago and I still don’t know what the next steps are. I am very active, I love crossfit and I am terrified to have any sort of limitation because of this. Your post on the decision for the surgery was very helpful as this timeline. I am happy to see you are recovered and I am confident I will be too!

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