If you know, or suspect, you have just torn your ACL than let me first say I am sorry, after experiencing 2 ACL tears and recoveries I know how big of an impact it can have on the next 12+ months of your life. But hopefully I can help you get your recovery started on the right foot…
Now first things first, how do you know if you tore your ACL? Well to be fair there is no way of knowing until you get an MRI but you are likely suspecting you have torn it based on answering yes to some of the following…
- Did your knee twist and you hear/feel a pop?
- Did your knee “give out” and you fell?
- Has it swollen up significantly? (it doesn’t always swell up like a balloon)
- If you are able to walk on it does it feel “unstable”?
- Did you feel extreme pain (this doesn’t always happen) but a torn ACL can bring the toughest competitors to the ground in incredible pain.
Here is a video showing a Doctor talk about diagnosing an ACL tear…
Now if you suspect you tore your ACL here are the first 7 steps of the long recovery that you need to get started on right away.
Step 1 – The Crucial R.I.C.E.
Step 1 is likely not a surprise and if you have had many injuries before than you are probably already doing this. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of the typical Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate.
ACL Injury Specific RICE Tips…
Rest – If you suspect you have torn your ACl than make sure to stop all activity that could put your knee in an unstable position. If you are in pain walking then I recommend using crutches until your doctor tells you otherwise. Instability incidents (knee giving out) and further damage to your meniscus is a potential concern right now.
Tip from reader Ricky
Stopping sports activities is a must before getting the diagnose from doctor. I know quite a few guys start playing basketball after the swelling went away and kept getting injured, only to have large portion of their meniscus removed. Every time I heard it, I felt their pain.
Ice – Using ice wraps make sure to fully ice your knee 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off. For an advanced technique on how to reduce swelling remarkably quickly have a look at this Knee Swelling Tip
Compression – I unfortunately don’t have any unique tip here (if you have one please include it in the comment section). Any full wrap which allows you to ice and provides a comfortable amount of compression without cutting off circulation is a big help. Compression Knee Braces will likely be too tight and not allow for adequate icing.
Elevation – This one is easy…get your knee into a comfortable position where it is sitting at a higher elevation than your heart. One cautionary piece of advice – ensure that your foot is above your knee…if it isn’t your ankle/foot will swell which can cause complications.
Step 2 – Book a Doctors Visit
Either go to the ER or book a doctor’s appointment with a Sports Medicine Doctor. Because torn ACLs can be difficult to diagnose I would try and get a Sports Medicine Doctor as they would have more experience with torn ACLs.
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Step 3 – Set Yourself Up For Sleeping
Sleeping the first nights after a knee injury can be painful. Take some anti-inflammatory pain medication to help control the pain/swelling. My tips for sleeping after a knee injury include…
- Ice immediately before trying to sleep
- Don’t use heavy blankets/comforters as the weight of them can twist your foot/knee
- Take anti-inflammatory pain medication before sleeping
- Set up your bed so your knee is above your heart and your ankle is above your knee
- Ensure you have an un-obstructed path to the lightswitch and bathroom (I learned this the hard way waking up and walking into the comforters I had moved off the bed(see #2))
Step 4 – Get an X-Ray
Likely at your doctor’s appointment you will be able to get an X-Ray. If you have torn your ACL an X-Ray won’t give you any information but it is often required before you can get an MRI.
Step 5 – Get an MRI
As soon as you can get an MRI this is the only way to know for sure if you have torn your ACL. Once you get your MRI you should be able to get the results in 1-2 days.
Tip from Alexandra
So while I was waiting for my MRI results to come through I varied my usual exercise routine and instead started doing hot bikram yoga (which I had never tried before and was coincidentally created by Bikram Choudhury as a result of a knee injury which he acquired through a weight lifting accident), and also focusing on upper body and core strength, along with cycling on an exercise bike., All of which kept me relatively sane during a quite a difficult period! From a personal perspective, it would have been helpful to have been able to share exercise tips/do’s and don’ts etc.
You can keep on exercising if it makes you happy – just vary what you’re doing in order to accommodate your new injury.
Step 6 – Decide if Surgery is Right for You
Now that you know whether you have a torn ACL or not it is time to decide if you are going to get ACL surgery. This decision is not always straightforward and is unique for everyone, here was my reasoning for choosing to have ACL surgery twice.
These are the first steps I advise people to do after you suspect you have torn your ACL. Each of us will be different with how much pain we are in and damage we have done so adapt the above steps to your needs.
Again let me say that if you suspect you tore your ACL I sympathize with the pain you are in but know with patience and work you will be able to return to all your favourite activities. To help others recovering from ACL surgery, consider a healthcare degree from Sacred Heart U and get started today.
The Top 5 At Home Exercises
I did that helped get me walking 4 days after surgery
Click Here to see the exercises