After I wake up from ACL surgery, what should I expect?

I have been through orthopaedic surgery myself (not ACL) and I can tell you the first day sucks! When you wake up you will feel very groggy and out of it. You likely won't have pain immediately since surgeons use medications to numb the operated area which will wear off in the first 24 to 48 hours.

When you do feel pain you are experiencing it from many different areas. You will feel pain where the surgeon made a cut or an incision to do the surgery. You will experience pain where the surgeon took the graft to replace your ACL. You will feel bone pain since this surgery involves some drilling into bone and you will feel the general pain and fullness due to swelling in your knee. You may also have pain in your throat as most people who undergo a general anesthetic have a tube put into their throat. This will make talking, swallowing and drinking hard for the first 1-2 days.

Hopefully before you leave the hospital you will be taught how to use crutches to walk. Make sure you know what your "weight bearing status" is. This is how much weight you are allowed to put on your operated leg. If you need a refreshed on how to use crutches you can refer to our previous blog here

It is very hard to remember instructions right after surgery so don't be surprised if you forget most of what you are told. This is why it is important to have a family member or friend with you right after surgery. Also, to drive you home since you will be in no shape to drive. Seriously, don't try to drive!

Once you get home remember to take your mediation as it was prescribed. You may feel super human because unlike everyone else you feel no pain. But this is likely just the anesthetic talking and as soon as it wears off you could be in considerable pain. If you have taken the medication as prescribed the pain will be manageable.

On the day of your surgery there are some simple things that you can start right away that are safe to do. If you are using our Android app for ACL rehabilitation this is Stage 0. As a physical therapist I can tell you that all of these things are great on the day of your surgery. However, I can honestly tell you as a patient I did NOTHING the day of surgery! If you manage to get some sleep, eat something and feel okay then you have done a great job! So get some sleep and worry about exercises the day after surgery.

Nirtal Shah

Nirtal is a Physical Therapist at the University of Toronto with 17 years of experience. Nirtal has a Master and Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a Master of Public Health.

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