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What to Expect When Returning to Sports After an ACL Injury

Knee injuries are tough under the best of circumstances, but an injury to your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) requires a higher standard of care to avoid serious long-term consequences. In other words, if you’re an athlete who’s champing at the bit to get back into the game after an ACL injury, proceed with care.

Here at Orthopedic & Wellness Center, under the experienced guidance of Drs. Ojedapo Ojeyemi and Matthew Roh, our team of orthopedic specialists has one primary goal — to restore pain-free movement to our patients. And when it comes to ACL injuries, the road to recovery varies from one person to the next.

Here’s a look at what you can expect when you return to sports after an ACL injury.

When can I get back in the game?

One of the first questions our more active patients typically ask is, “When can I get back to (insert your athletic endeavor of choice here)?” And this is one tough question to answer. First, the answer depends upon the extent of the ACL injury and whether we performed surgery.

For nonsurgical ACL injuries, our first goal is to reduce the pain and swelling and allow ample time for your ligament to repair itself on its own, as with a strain or partial tear. You can do your part to speed this process by following your at-home instructions to the letter, which usually include staying off your knee, attending physical therapy, and regularly icing the injury.

With a little TLC, physical therapy, and time, we typically greenlight a return to sports once you’re able to become more active with your knee without any pain or swelling.

If we’ve performed ACL reconstruction surgery to repair a large or complete tear, the road to recovery takes much longer — anywhere from 4-8 weeks to 4-8 months or more. Again, it’s virtually impossible to predict a timeline for your return to sports since it depends upon the extent of the reconstruction and how your body responds to the surgery (not to mention which sport you want to return to!). 

In general, we want to see that full range of motion is restored to your knee, that it’s stable, and it doesn’t show any signs of swelling after use.

The great news is that because we use the latest arthroscopic techniques, your recovery time is greatly reduced over more traditional techniques. 

The return

Once we give you the go-ahead to return to your sport of choice after your ACL injury, we ask that you continue to follow our recommendations in order to protect yourself against reinjury, which is a clear and present danger when it comes to ACL injuries.

Whether we ask that you limit your participation, wear a brace, or any other precautionary measure, you’d do well to pay heed. Not only is reinjury a threat, but your odds of developing osteoarthritis in a knee that doesn’t heal properly are fairly high.

You should also pay close attention to your affected knee and listen anytime it objects. Your body does a great job of letting you know when you’re pushing it past its limits, but you need to register the warning.

Rest assured, we’re with you every step of the way during your recovery, and we want nothing more than to return you to your sport of choice. But we’re also looking out for your future health and quality of life, and growing old with a bum knee can be miserable.

If you have more questions about returning to sports after an ACL injury, please call one of our three locations in Germantown, Frederick, and Waldorf, Maryland, or you can use the online scheduling tool to set up an appointment.

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