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How long will I need help after ACL surgery? What will I need help with? Photo by FatCamera from Canva.

When you get home from ACL surgery, you will likely feel dazed and unmotivated to do anything. This is normal! And there is nothing wrong with taking the first day to yourself to get some rest and recover from just having had surgery. To learn more about this first day experience, read this blog. After your surgery, you might wonder things like, “How much help will I need? How am I going to go to the bathroom?” In this blog I will answer these questions and give you advice on how to make the first few weeks of your ACL recovery as seamless as possible.

After ACL surgery, how much help will I need?

The amount of help a person needs is dependent on the individual. Some people need help for a week with things like going to the washroom, getting out of bed, showering, cooking, etc. Other people might just need someone around to help limit the number of times you need to get up to get things like medication, food, or ice. You will not truly know until after you have the surgery, so it is best to plan ahead! I would suggest having a care provider for at least 2 weeks after surgery.

Prepare your home before your ACL surgery

The best thing you can do to make things easier for yourself and your care provider is prior to your surgery, prepare a list of things you will need for after your surgery. The last thing you want to worry about after your ACL surgery is if you have enough toilet paper for the week or running out of coffee. I will go into more depth about why some of these items are important, but here is a list of items that would be beneficial to have at home for after your ACL surgery:

  • Pillows: extra pillows to elevate your leg when sitting and sleeping. Do NOT place pillows under the knee when sleeping.
  • Ice supplies: either ice packs or ice cube trays work. An elastic bandage and ziplock bags to keep the ice in place. Read this blog for more information.
  • Bathroom supplies: toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and shampoo.
  • Toilet supplies: a raised toilet seat for some people and a step stool for your leg. Read below for more information.
  • Shower supplies: waterproof cover for your knee (garbage bag works fine), a non-slip mat, and a chair. Read below on information about when you can shower.
  • Groceries: consider planning around simple meals and coordinating with your care provider. Read below for more details about cooking.
  • Living station supplies: anything you might want nearby to keep yourself comfortable. This would be more of your personal list, but some suggestions include: phone charger, books, TV with a remote, a lamp (who really wants to get up to turn the lights off anyway?), and a trash can.
  • Shoulder bag: while on crutches, it will be difficult to carry things around. Having a bag that goes over your shoulder can help since your arms are preoccupied with crutches.

After ACL surgery, how do I use the toilet?

There are a few aspects to using the toilet that were second nature before having surgery, but will be more difficult while you recover.

Step 1 - getting to the washroom: You won’t know how difficult it is to get to the washroom until you try! This isn’t something you want to test out in an emergency. Test this out early. It will take extra time for you to maneuver from the bed or couch to the washroom, especially when using crutches.

Step 2 - sitting down and getting up from the toilet: Toilet seats tend to sit low to the ground, which is a challenging place to get to the days after ACL surgery. Consider using a raised toilet seat to make the sit-to-stand portion of this task easier. This is not a requirement but it might make things easier for you.

Step 3 - what to do with your leg when you’re sitting: Typically, you bend both of your knees past 90º when using the washroom, which is something you won’t be able to do immediately after ACL surgery. You will want a stool to rest your leg on while you use the toilet to keep your knee relatively straight.

Again, you will not know how difficult it is to get to the washroom before you try. It would be good foresight to have a care provider nearby for the first time and see how it goes.

How do I use the toilet after ACL surgery? Can I shower? Photo by Christa Grover from Pexels.
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After ACL surgery, can I shower?

You should ask your doctor to confirm when you can shower, but it is typically 1-3 days after the surgery.[1,2] Before this, washing your hair in the sink would be the best option. When you do shower, it is important to cover your knee with a waterproof cover (like a garbage bag), to keep the wound dry. This is because moisture can slow down the healing process.[3] You should also consider using a non-slip mat and a shower chair to avoid the risk of falls. It might also be a good idea to use a stool here to rest your leg while you shower, if you’re using a chair.

After ACL surgery, will I be able to cook?

If there was ever the right time to grab takeout, the week after ACL surgery would be it! Cooking will be challenging as it requires prolonged standing and carrying. This is where it would be helpful to have a care provider prepare meals.

Depending on your standing tolerance with crutches, you may be able to make simple meals. This will depend on the individual, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared! You can do this by making pre-made meals before going in for your surgery, so it is as simple as microwaving a plate.

After ACL surgery, will I be able to drive?

Immediately after ACL surgery, you cannot drive while on pain medication. You also will not be able to drive for at least 2 weeks after your surgery due to the strength and mobility of your operated knee.[2] If it’s your right leg that has been operated on, driving may take even longer to return to. Usually when you are off of crutches you can start to think about driving, but do not rush into it. Only drive when you feel comfortable. Coordinating with your care provider early will be helpful to get to medical appointments or other reasons to get out of the house.

After ACL surgery, can I take care of my child? Will I be able to hold my baby?

I would recommend having a trusted care provider for young children and/or babies for as long as it takes until you can take care of yourself. You won’t be able to carry your child or baby while using crutches, but you can certainly hold them while sitting! This means you can do things like change diapers, breastfeed, and snuggle. Even though you will be able to supervise playtime, if your child gets hurt and starts crying, it’s important to have someone nearby who is able to pick them up from the floor and bring them to you. As you gain strength and mobility in your leg, you will be able to do more for your children.

Conclusion

Plan to have a care provider for 2 weeks after your ACL surgery. You may not need them for that long, but it is best to plan ahead! Make a list of the things you will need in your house before surgery because that is the last thing you will want to do afterward. Have your care provider nearby before trying things for the first time, such as using the toilet, showering and cooking. From this first experience you will be able to gauge what kind of support you will need. You will not be able to drive for at least 2 weeks. If you have small children, plan to have a trusted caregiver for them until you are independently taking care of yourself.

As your leg gets stronger, you will need less help and gain more independence. The best way to do this is to stay diligent with physical therapy. Our mobile app, Curovate, provides you with an in-depth personalized physical therapy plan with video guided exercises, the ability to track your progress, and built-in reminders. All from the comfort of your home! You can download the Curovate app from the App Store or the Play Store using the links below.

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Other Blogs Related to ACL surgery and Rehabilitation

References

1. Day Surgery Unit. After Your Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Repair. University Health Network. 2019.

2. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: What to Expect at Home. https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=ug3484#abt6079. Accessed August 4, 2021.

3. Suture care. https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/S_T/Suture-care#:~:text=Keep%20the%20wound%20dry,immediately%20after%20it%20gets%20wet. Accessed August 4, 2021..