Updated August 2023

Many athletes hope that they can make full recoveries after ACL surgery, like Vonn Miller. He experienced a near career ending ACL injury.

Von Miller, Football Player
Von Miller eases rush to return from ACL surgery at start of training camp.

The ACL connects the upper and lower leg bones. The sports most frequently implicated in ACL tears—football, skiing, basketball, gymnastics and soccer—require frequent twists of the knee, shifts in weight between one leg and the other, or high-speed stops and starts. Because ACL strength is a necessity in these sports, a quick return to practice and competition after surgery to repair an ACL tear is often not practical.

Before surgery, physical therapy can prepare the knee for surgery. The more strength, mobility and the better your body’s sense of position in space before surgery, the fuller your range of motion afterward.

For Miller, his injury required surgery a months of rehabilitation therapy to ease him back into a busy schedule. For him, patience and listening to his body allowed him to return to training full time in July of 2023.

How long before you can return to sports following ACL surgery?

In most cases, you should expect to wait at least six to twelve months to return to full physical activity. Structured physical therapy will begin two to ten days postsurgery and will include the following:

  • For the first several weeks after the injury, you will have to use crutches and possibly wear a knee brace to avoid putting complete weight or strain on the tendon.
  • You will use the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • As the swelling decreases, you will start a series of limited, low impact exercises designed to increase the muscular strength and improve the range of motion in the afflicted knee.
  • When your quadriceps strength is 80% to 90% of that on your uninjured side, we can begin planning your resumption of athletic activity.
Diagram of the ligaments in the knee.

 Advances in treatment have been impressive, but recovery from ACL injury is still a long, slow process. A rush to return to full activity can be dangerous and career ending in itself. Whether you are anticipating surgery or recovering from it, we can design an exercise program that will help you return to full physical activity as quickly as possible.

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