Returning to a Sport After an ACL Injury

acl surgery

Whether you are a professional sportsman or woman, or simply enjoy participating in a sport in your downtime, experiencing an anterior cruciate ligament injury can see you out of action for some time. To help you get active as soon as possible, we’ve put together this list of tips on how you can safely return to your preferred sport.


What happens when you experience an ACL injury

ACL injuries are extremely common in people who play a range of sports, and most often occur when the participant suddenly stops or changes direction, such as in basketball, soccer, and tennis. However, you can also experience an ACL injury if you land awkwardly after a jump or receive a blunt force trauma to the knee. When and ACL injury happens, you may hear or feel a ‘pop’ in your knee. This means that the anterior cruciate ligament has stretched beyond its normal capabilities. It may even be torn.


Get your injury checked

If you believe that you have experienced an ACL injury it is important to get checked by your sports surgeon as soon as possible. This will enable you to get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment promptly and help avoid any further damage from occurring.


Seek prompt treatment

There are a variety of therapies that can help with the healing process from an ACL injury. Many of these are non-invasive, such as oral pain relief medications and anti-inflammatory drugs. You may be offered steroid injections and given a program of physical therapy to attend and follow at home. In addition to non-invasive treatments, your doctor may also recommend you for ACL surgery, particularly if you feel strongly about wanting to continue in your chosen sport.


ACL surgery

ACL surgery involves removing the damaged ligament and replacing it with a healthy section of tendon, in a process known as grafting. Your own ligament tissue will then grow on the graft, strengthening the tendon and enabling you to enjoy improved movement. The process is relatively straightforward and has a high success rate. After the surgery, you will be given a specific physical therapy plan to follow which will help you to heal effectively and build strength in the joint.


So, when exactly can you return to sport after an ACL injury?

Every ACL injury and patient is different, and therefore the rate at which you may recover can vary widely. Even if you don’t end up needing ACL surgery, your doctor will almost certainly recommend a reasonable recovery period as the joint will still take time to heal.


It can take anywhere between six and nine months to be able to return to full activity after surgery to reconstruct an ACL injury. Trying to do so any earlier could result in not only undoing the repair performed during your surgery, but also causing further damage to your knee that could see you taking an even longer break from your sport. If you haven’t had surgery, most experts would still agree that you should take a minimum of 6 to 9 months to let your body heal and lower the risk of re-injury occurring.


Before you return to sport, we will give you a thorough assessment, checking that you have sufficient stability, strength and neuromuscular control in your knee. If you are recommended to have longer to go through the healing and recovery process, we strongly advise that you heed the instructions Dr. Rovner.