Susan's ACL surgery and slow, slow recovery

by Susan
(South Australia)

Being a registered nurse (in orthopaedics for a couple of years), I had a fair idea what I was in for when I ruptured my ACL playing a netball grand final in June. It was end of July before I had my surgery with the hamstring graft method. It has all been an awful experience, but in a way I wouldn't change any of it because I have learnt so much. It's probably a good experience for me to know what my patients go through!


I felt fine going into surgery, not nervous at all, but the moment of waking up in recovery was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. I had huge amounts of nausea and vomiting for the first few days post-op, not sure whether that was from the anaesthesia or the opioids, but I was still being sick in the car on the way home. I found the pain bearable if I dosed up on panadeine forte regularly, the oxycodone just made me feel sick. It was almost two weeks before I could sleep through the night rather than waking up in pain.

My recovery in the weeks since has been agonisingly slow. I saw the surgeon 5 weeks post-op and he said I was below average in my recovery, probably because I had a quads lag. This upset me for a while because I'm not used to being below average and I had to remind myself that every person's recovery is different. It was 5-6 weeks before I was rid of my Zimmer splint. My range of motion is still quite limited, apparently it's not up to the usual.

Everything finally seemed to be getting better in the last four weeks (I'm 9 and a half weeks now), and it almost started to feel normal. I was so pleased, and looking forward to starting work again Oct 12. Yesterday I slipped over and ended up sitting on my reconstructed knee with it flexed at 180 degrees. It was awful, so painful, I was so scared I had torn the new ligament. I am staying with my grandparents in Hobart for a little while so I couldn't see my surgeon. I went to ED, and the doctor there reckoned it was ok, maybe what's left of my meniscus has been folded back on itself. My knee has swelled again, mostly over the lateral upper side, and it's still painful, plus I'm back in the brace for another week. The worst of it is that I have lost a lot of the range of motion that I've fought so hard for over the past few weeks. I'm so annoyed with myself for slipping over, although I know that's silly, and I'm beginning to get a little discouraged about the whole thing, especially considering I'm meant to be starting work in 10 days in one of Australia's busiest emergency departments.

Has anyone else out there had similar experiences or a really slow recovery? I know it's going to get better and I just need to be patient, but setbacks like yesterday are beginning to get a little discouraging. I know this all sounds negative, but I am usually very positive, I think I just needed to air my frustration from yesterday.

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Jan 04, 2016
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Your not alone NEW
by: Nicole

Im a RN as well and had my ACL reconstructed on 12/3/15. It has been the worst experience of my life! I fell 6 hours post op due to the numbing of my leg and had an emergency visit with the PA that day. They thought all is fine but still after 4.5 weeks im still using one crutch to get around and my knee feels unstable due to quad lag. I have had a hard time firing them due to swelling and pain. I still have a decent amount of swelling but the OS said with time that would go down. Im due to go back to work at the end of the month and work can only accomodate so many light duty hours for me but with my FMLA about up my job isnt guaranteed to be held after that. I have cried and cried about this, even at times regretting ever getting this done. I sure hope in the end it was all worth. Any words of encouragement or more stories would be great!.

Oct 06, 2014
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Me also with slow recovery NEW
by: shashank

Hey everyone
Alison (nice name) and others
Th last 6 weeks are the hell for me , i am using awalker to walk , and can' t do the regular stuff pain is very high and also i cant do a leg raise without a lag i too have this weak quads any one can talk to me on whatsapp 918871586062 , best of luck to you all

Oct 06, 2014
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Me also with slow recovery NEW
by: shashank

Hey everyone
Alison (nice name) and others
Th last 6 weeks are the hell for me , i am using awalker to walk , and can' t do the regular stuff pain is very high and also i cant do a leg raise without a lag i too have this weak quads any one can talk to me on whatsapp 918871586062 , best of luck to you all

Oct 23, 2010
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ALC recovery
by: Anonymous

I tore my ACL in early June 2010. Had to wait til July 21 for surgery because it took so long to get my extension and flexion back. The surgery itself appeared to go fine. But the nerve block took quite a long time to wear off. They said max, 15 hours, for me, it was a good four days. I had incredible calf pain for the first few weeks. Had an ultrasound done to rule out a blood clot. (No clot, thank goodness.) Let's face it: ACL recovery from surgery is not fun. Worst two weeks of my life.

I've worked really hard on rehab, but it's been three months since surgery, and I'm still having to use a crutch. My extension and flexion are pretty much back, but according to my PT, my quads are still weak, which explains my trouble walking. I can put down the crutch and walk, but it's pretty gimpy, and my doctor said it's not a good idea to push walking w/o crutches if you're still limping, or you'll teach yourself to limp. Maybe I already have.

Sometimes I get incredibly discouraged. Sure, things are better than they were a month ago, but I can't believe how slowly the healing has been. I want nothing more than to be able to walk my dogs, hike, dance, but those things feel a long way off.

I see my surgeon again this week. May see if they'll order an MRI, just to make sure everything really is OK.


Nov 13, 2009
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Glad To Hear You're Doing Better Susan
by: Denise

Sorry about the late reply. I'm glad to hear you're doing better. I really admire your commitment to return to such a physically demanding job so soon after surgery. Just remember, you've had a major operation so there's no need to feel like a burden to your colleagues. When you're fully recovered you can start doing all the things you used to do before the injury, but for now, just work hard at getting better! Good luck with Physiotherapy.
Denise

Nov 03, 2009
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Thank you Denise
by: Susan

Thank you Denise for your encouragement and prayers! I have started work last week again as an RN in Emergency and although I can't walk as fast as everyone else I still manage to get the necessary work done, so that's a positive! My knee swells like a balloon every shift so I have put a really tight double tubigrip on which has helped - I tried compression stockings but they did nothing.

This last month has been a very difficult, discouraging, and frustrating time, especially with the stress of starting work again in such a busy, pressurised environment where you barely, if at all, get to sit down for eight and a half hours. Some of the work, like pushing around the barouches, I just can't do, which makes me feel like a burden on my work colleagues. I come home so stiff and sore every day that I seriously consider resigning and finding a less active job. My Christian faith and the support of my family and physio have been all that have kept me going through this last month. I believe that this journey will get brighter the further I go - every day brings me one closer to having a normal knee again. Already there are positive signs: I saw my physio today and he said my knee was "excellent" for this stage of my recovery, and that my extension was really good. He reassured me that I had made the right decision to return to work three months postop, which was a decision I had been beating myself over. I hope this encourages others that, yes, your knee will get better one day -- or at least well enough to start doing some of the things you used to do!

Oct 28, 2009
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Best Wishes
by: Denise

Hello Everyone,

I ruptured the ACL in my left knee back in October 2008 and I had an ACL reconstruction operation in June 2009. I just wanted to let you all know that I understand exactly how you feel regarding setbacks.

My case is a little different from most stories here, because I had a synthetic graft. There were times during my rehab when I felt discouraged and frustrated. I took a few bumps to the knee a few weeks after surgery, due to my natural clumsiness and the everyday hustle and bustle around me. Each one of those stumbles had me panicking that I'd dislodged the graft in some way. To make matters worse, during my attempt to baby the knee I badly sprained my right thumb. This made everyday activities like brushing my teeth and holding my hairbrush extremely tricky. I had to weakly grip my crutches with my right hand which was the scariest thing ever, since now I was shouldering both a knee and hand injury - not only could I not rely on my knee, but my crutches couldn't even be gripped securely. Furthermore, I took a lot longer than 2-3 weeks to ditch the crutches, more like 6 weeks. The whole thing just made me feel like I was so far behind everyone else who had been through ACL rehab. Throw in all the negatives I've heard about synthetic grafts and you can probably imagine how I felt.

And now the positives (because after THAT we need some). The road to recovery for me was paved with tears. I cried all the time, in pain, frustration, regret over injuring myself in the first place, uncertainty about the future (How is this positive? I'm getting there I promise). With support from my Church and my Family I persevered with physiotherapy. It has now been less than 5 months since my surgery and I have been discharged from physiotherapy. There are some days when I even forget which knee is injured, although the occasional aches and pains serve as an apt reminder! The synthetic graft seems to have been the perfect option for me, because my knee almost feels normal, my scars are small (there was no need to harvest a graft hence one less scar to contend with) and I have a full range of motion. My point is, there is hope. Recovery may start off slow and there will be setbacks, but with the right support you'll get back to relative normalcy eventually. I still have a long way to go to regain full strength in my knee, but it's so much better than it was when I was walking around without an ACL. I wish you all the best and will pray for your recoveries. It is normal to feel frustrated, but hopefully one day you'll look back and feel proud that you got past one of the worst possible injuries.

Denise

Oct 14, 2009
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Thanks for your comments!
by: Susan

Thanks for your comments guys, I appreciate hearing from other people who are in a similar position. You make me feel a bit ashamed about grumbling about my little fall when I see how much other people have gone through, and I sincerely hope that it gets better for both of you - it sounds like we all have the same problem with scar tissue. I've seen my physio and surgeon since I came back to Adelaide and they reckon that when I fell I tore all my scar tissue without the aid of an operating room and anaesthetic. I'm still having difficulty with extending my knee and my flexion has improved enormously since the fall, but I've always had a slight problem with the overformation of scar tissue so hopefully it doesn't grow back! I'm still limping horribly, but I have another two weeks to get fit for work, so I'm praying that it's going to get better really quickly.

Oct 13, 2009
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Keep your head up
by: Anonymous

hey i know what your going through, i had my acl reconstructed in june, and my recovery has been going so slow! i was told yesterday at phyiso im the most complicated paicent they have seen after acl surgery. After the first surgery to get it reconstructed, it would not go straight, due to scar tissue, teh surgon gave me three months and if it would not go straight i would need another surgery. After three months i seen the surgon, and he told me time for another opeartion, so i went in got my knee scoped, and they removed so much scar tisse. Now a month posst op from the second surgery, i have been having so much lateral pain in my knee it so bad. Doing exerices at phyiso almost makes me cry.Im going to see the surgon in a week for that. Im still working on extention at phyiso. Im so far behind. I know what your going throught. A word of advise just keep your head up, everything will get better thats what i keep telling my self. This will just be a memory in the future.

Oct 13, 2009
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Could Be Worse : )
by: Anonymous

Hi Susan. You're going to feel better about your situation after you hear about mine. I'm a 44 year old firefighter/athlete that tore my ACL on March 28th, 2009 during an obstacle course competition. I had reconstuction surgery using my patellar tendon on April 14th. I began therapy 2 days later. My progress was very slow and extremely painful. Something felt "wrong" to me so I was finally able to convince my doctor to have an MRI done. The MRI showed a build up of scar tissue in my knee requiring a second surgery (on July 7th) to remove the tissue and force a full range of motion while under anesthesia. I felt better right after the surgery but I started feeling like something was wrong again a few weeks into my therapy.
It's now October 13th and I'm awaiting a call from my doctor for results of another MRI that was done last Thursday. I'm expecting to hear that I'm still having problems with scar tissue. This has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I've been on desk duty at work (which I hate) since the injury and I haven't been able to do any of the activities that I love except for biking. I'm afraid of another surgery because, although I'll feel better after the doctor removes scar tissue, I wonder how we're going to keep it from forming again. I'm so tired of having a weak, painful knee. I just want my life back!
I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. I just wanted to tell you you're not alone in your frustration.
Good luck,
Allison

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