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Returning to Sports After ACL Reconstruction

Oh, the coveted return to sports — fondly referred to as “RTS” in the orthopedic surgery world because it’s a pivotal moment in an athlete’s life post-ACL reconstruction. We wish we could say returning to sports after ACL surgery is a quick and easy road, but that’s far from the truth.

Your ACL is a major ligament that stabilizes your knee joint and is responsible for functional front, back, and side-to-side movement. Without it, or with a damaged one, you can’t run, jump, pivot, side-step, or even walk in some cases.

You’ll have to put in a great deal of work to get back on the field, in the court, or on the track. Dr. Steven Nolan, named Best Orthopedic Surgeon in the Fort Bend Sun, promises to match the effort you put into your ACL reconstruction recovery. Here are three things Dr. Nolan wants you to know about returning to sports after ACL reconstruction.

1. It’s a long road.

On average, ACL rehab takes 6-9 months, but the process varies from person to person. Full recovery can take up to a year or longer in many cases, depending on a number of factors, including your physical state before you tore your ACL.

Even if you get back to activity within a year, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to return to the same level of play for up to two years. When Dr. Nolan repairs your ACL, he essentially creates a new ligament, which is held in place in your knee with screws. Your new ACL must heal in this position in order to withstand future repetitive stresses.

If your ACL graft is repeatedly stressed before it’s fully healed in the right position, it can become loose or completely re-torn.

2. You’ll have to meet specific criteria.

Time is important, but your ACL rehabilitation is much more than a matter of time. Returning to sports requires a progression of sport-specific strengthening and therapeutic exercises. Most of the time, an athlete’s ability to return to sports is measured by their success in certain physical tests.

Those tests might include a hop test, a skip test, a step-up test, or any combination of tests that measure the functionality of your injured knee.

Working with a physical therapist is a critical component of your ACL reconstruction recovery. As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Nolan doesn’t conduct physical therapy after your surgery, but he works with every patient to find the right physical therapist

3. There’s potential for re-injury.

Even after you’re given the all-clear from Dr. Nolan and your physical therapist, remain cautious. It’s still possible to re-injure your ACL, especially in the first few months after you’re back in the game.

Be mindful of any pain or symptoms that arise in your injured leg, and report them immediately. Don’t expect to jump back into sports at the same level you were playing at pre-reconstruction. Instead, take it slow and gradually build up your level of performance and intensity.

How to finally return to sports

Patience is key to ACL reconstruction recovery. Successful ACL reconstruction administered by a qualified orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Nolan and paired with focused physical therapy can usually restore proper function to your knee.

It’s a long process, but Dr. Nolan is excited to be the first step in your return to sports. If you’ve suffered an ACL tear, call our office in Sugar Land, Texas, or request an appointment online.

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