How Much Time Will an ACL Tear Recovery Take Without Surgery?

A tear to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is becoming an increasingly common injury as more and more young adults and especially women are taking part in more sports on a year-round basis. When an athlete suspects an ACL tear, he or she likely cringes as the ACL injury recovery time is lengthy and involves intense effort.

Partial ACL Tear Recovery Without Surgery

However, restoration of the ACL is not always necessary. A doctor and patient can make the decision as to whether surgery is needed based on:
  • Severity of damage
  • Desired activity level

For major tears or tears that also include damage to other ligaments and cartilage in the knee, one will likely need to undergo surgery for ACL tear recovery. Another consideration is that forgoing surgery would exclude one from sports involving pivoting, cutting, jumping and sudden stops.

One who opts for ACL tear recovery without surgery can undergo therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee—notably the quadriceps and the hamstring—so that these muscles can help the knee hold up well to normal activity and moderate athletic activity, but the stabilizing effect of the ACL is needed to engage in the previously mentioned sudden motions.

And while not undergoing surgery does substantially cut down the ACL tear recovery time, partial ACL tear recovery time is still fairly substantial. Usually at least three months of extensive strength, flexibility, and range-of-motion training must be undergone so that the muscles surrounding the knee are able to compensate for the weakened ACL.

ACL Tear Surgery Recovery

If one does opt to undergo surgery, he or she will likely have to wait several weeks for the swelling to subside, the normal joint movement to return and possibly to engage in some pre-surgery strength training for the knee muscles before going under the knife.

There are three main types of surgery where tissue from elsewhere in the body or a posthumous body is used to reconstruct the ACL:

  • A hamstring graft
  • patella tendon graft
  • cadaver graft
The challenging part of ACL injury recovery comes after surgery. After a few days of being bed-bound, one can begin moving around with crutches and an ACL knee brace. One will then begin a period of physical therapy that includes exercises to first regain the knee’s full range of motion, followed by exercises to improve strength and stability of the knee.

Recovery Time for ACL Tear

On paper, this may not sound so tough. But the ACL injury recovery exercises are painful for a very tender post-surgery knee, not to mention they are intense and repetitious, which can be mentally challenging. The weekly time commitment is fairly extensive and includes both times spent with the physical therapist and time working through exercises on one’s own.

And that’s not even considering the overall ACL tear recovery timeline. ACL tear surgery recovery and rehab typically lasts anywhere from six months to a year. The exact ACL tear recovery time varies from person to person as this depends upon the person’s age, health and commitment to the rehab program, not to mention the severity of the ACL injury.

When one does eventually return to competitive activity, he or she will likely be advised to wear an ACL knee brace for additional support. This is especially true if the sport involves person-to-person contact.

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