Returning to Sports After ACL Injury

Post by Dr. Jeffrey N. Guttman

If you are a sport fan, you’ve seen Adrian Peterson’s recent comeback from an ACL tear. People watched in awe as a man less then nine months removed from ACL surgery returned to be even better than he was before surgery, nearly breaking the NFL rushing record.

Now, while the average athlete, whether they be in high school or just a rec league, is not nearly as athletic as Peterson, he does serve as an example of how far ACL recovery has come over the past couple of decades. Where ACL injury used to be the kiss of death for any athlete that relied on cutting, stopping, and starting, it has now become more of a speed bump in their careers and less of a roadblock. Keep in mind that an athlete like Peterson is being paid millions of dollars to come back and perform as quickly and fully as possible. The average person has a lot more time to take to fully come back.

A complete full recovery of a typical ACL injury, that will have you completely back on the field, typically lasts an average of eight months. Here are the standard steps:

Stage 1: Recovery/Rehabilitation

The first goal for anyone recovering from ACL surgery is to gain full mobility and range of motion back. The two main goals you should be focusing on are reducing the swelling in your knee and being able to move without crutches or other assistants. After this phase you should be able to walk/lightly jog fully.

Average time: 3 months

Total time: 3 months

Stage 2: Creating a base

This phase is fairly straightforward. At this point you should be doing light jogging and strengthening your core. After this you should have a solid base to train with for your respective sport. However, be careful how hard you push yourself when you run; one misstep and you could seriously set yourself back.

Average time: 1 month

Total time: 4 months

Stage 3: Sport respective training

This is where you focus on the areas of training based on what sport you wish to participate in after. Many of the drills cross over from sport to sport (cone drills, parachute runs, etc.) and some are very specific (dribbling skills for basketball, shooting drills for soccer). Focus on planting and cutting during this phase.

Average time: 2 months

Total time: 6 months

Stage 4: Practicing

At this point you can practice with your team. Ease your way into contact drills and scrimmages and respond according to how your knee reacts. If everything feels fine, continue to practice. If you feel pain, stop what you are doing and consult your doctor. The key at this point is to listen to your body. You have months invested into your rehab and don’t want to make it for nothing by reinjuring yourself.

Average time: 1 month

Total time: 7 months

Stage 5: Returning to competition

Determining the right time to get back in the game, will be a team decision between all relevant parties including your surgeon, coach, physical therapist, athletic trainer, and the patient. This decision is based on a mix of your physical ability, mental state, and how much those around you feel you can contribute. Usually after a month of practicing and regaining your strength and rhythm, you’ll be ready to see the court, field, etc.

Average time: 1 month

Total time: 8 months

Keep in mind this is just a basic roadmap for getting yourself back to full strength after an ACL injury. Everyone’s body is different. A doctor should be consulted throughout the process.


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Posted in: Knee

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