ACL tear recoveryThere are 2 methods of repairing an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear; non-surgical and surgical. Below, we look at the stages of ACL tear recovery for both types of intervention.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments of the knee. Located under your kneecap (patella), it is crucial to knee stability. There are 2 ways to repair an ACL tear; non-surgical and surgical.


An ACL tear does not always need surgery.

  • A doctor will examine your injury, and note your signs and symptoms and your medical history. Tests including the Lachman Test, and scans will be carried out to assess the extent of the tear.
  • In deciding which intervention to use, the doctor will also consider several factors including, whether or not you regularly play sports that require an ACL, if your knee is stable, and the type of work you do.


  • Non-surgical treatment usually includes progressive physical therapy and rehabilitation. A trained physical therapist will carry out the therapy on your knee, and also advise you on exercises to do at home, and on lifestyle issues.
  • Usually, it is necessary to wear a knee brace to give stability to the joint.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers and NSAIDS will help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Applying ice packs for 10-20 minutes across the day helps alleviate swelling and pain.



Surgery for an ACL tear is called an ACL reconstruction. This is because a repair is rarely possible. A graft is made using another tendon or ligament and substituted for the torn one.


Recovery after ACL reconstruction can take many months, and often rehabilitation and physical therapy are required. The first four weeks of ACL recovery lay the groundwork for the following 6-8 months.

Weeks 1-2

  • You will need strong painkillers that are prescribed by your doctor.
  • You’ll be given exercises you can start in the hospital.
  • You will be given crutches.
  • You will need to keep your leg elevated as much as possible.
  • Applying an ice pack to your injured knee will help reduce the pain and swelling.

Weeks 2-6

  • Continue with the exercises when you get home. The purpose of these exercises is to fully extend and bend your knee, help strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance, and help you to walk properly.
  • You will also be advised to do some exercise that doesn’t put much weight on your knee such as swimming or
  • After two to three weeks, you should be able to walk without the aid of crutches.

Weeks 6-24  

  • Between 6 weeks and 6 months after your operation, you should be gradually returning to your normal level of activity.
  • During this time, continue with activities such as cycling and swimming,
  • Avoid sports or exercises that involve a lot of twisting, jumping or turning.

After six months


  • When you can return to work depends on what your job involves.
  • If you work in an office, you may be able to return to work after 2 or 3 weeks.
  • If you do manual labor, it could be up to three months before you can return to work.


If all is going well, you may be able to return to playing sports.

Whichever intervention is chosen, surgical or non-surgical, it’s very important to follow the structured rehabilitation program given by your doctor. You may be advised to continue wearing a protective knee brace through much of the process, and even after the ACL has healed, especially during sporting activities. You can drive again after 3-4 weeks, or whenever you can comfortably put weight on your foot.

Recovery and rehabilitation after an ACL tear take several months. Although there are general guidelines for ACL tear recovery make sure you progress at your own pace to avoid serious complications.

Each individual are different, make sure you talk to your doctor to get your personal recovery plan.