Friday, March 22, 2013

My experience with a torn ACL... Part 1

Though my blog thus far has focused on my various culinary endeavors, I decided to switch gears a bit and talk about my experience of injuring my knee and getting surgery.

A little bit about me: I strive to be a healthy, active woman. I'm in my early twenties, I try to exercise several times a week doing a variety of activities. My diet isn't perfect but I'm always striving to make better (but still tasty) choices. I've played soccer at a variety of levels since I was in elementary school and have never had a serious injury (until now).

This all started in mid-February. I was playing on a co-Ed indoor soccer tram and while trying to stop from a sprint and switch directions, I fell sideways on my knee and it popped/started swelling up. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you hear a loud pop in a joint followed by immediate swelling, seek medical attention as soon as you can. I was carried off the field and sat with ice on my knee for a while before heading home (fortunately, my BF was there to help me out to my car and drive me home). That evening, I iced and elevated my knee and wrapped it up with an ACE bandaid.

The next morning, I took the day off work and headed to the local walk in clinic. I arrived right as they opened so my wait time was next to nothing. The doctor took a look at my knee, tried bending it a little (at this point it was more or less stuck at about a 135 degree angle as both the most flat and most bent I could manage). The doctor got me a knee brace and crutches and told me to stay off it as much as possible until my MRI. He also recommended I see an orthopedic specialistic. I rested that day and returned to work the next day. Fortunately, my boss/office mate lives by me so she was able to drive me to and from work while I was hurt. My injury was to my left knee so driving my stick shift was pretty tough with little ability to bend/straighten my leg.

That Friday, I had my MRI. This was my first one so I didn't know what to expect. I laid on a bed with a blanket on my upper bottom then the "bed" slid into the machine so only my head stuck out. It was VERY loud but they gave me head phones to listen to satellite radio!

As I got to work that day, I got a call from a nurse with my MRI results... I tore my anterior cruciatr ligament, had some bone bruising and also a small tear to my meniscus. I was pretty upset to hear this since I've known many people who have gone through this and it did not seem like much fun. By the time I saw my ortho specialist, I was back to walking without crutches in my brace and driving myself around. He spoke with me about the procedure he wanted to do (arthroscopic ACL replacement using my own hamstring tendons and possibly repair my torn meniscus). He showed me the images of my knee from the MRI and I could see where my ACL should have been and also where my meniscus tear is. Here's what it looked like, though this is not my MRI.


From there, I went to the physical therapy department (I really lucked out that my local clinic has all these facilities in the same building) to schedule my sessions. Before getting surgery, you really have to focus on being able to bend your knee and being able to straighten it completely. 

These are the exercises I started out with for the first four weeks of physical therapy. I tried to do the exercises at work and in the evening each day. I also continued to go to the gym during this time. I rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes two times a week and 10 minutes at the start of PT each time. I chose to wear my brace as I did that and it seemed to prevent any swelling. Using the cross trainer caused my knee to swell up the one time I attempted it so I wouldn't recommend that to others with a knee injury.

The week before my surgery, I started a more intense pre-hab set of exercises (as seen above) since my leg was able to be almost totally flat (my right leg, when straightened, was 0 degrees and my left could flatten to 4) and could bend back to less than 90 without significant discomfort. These exercises felt a lot more like my usual level of working out so that was a nice change. I did these at the gym or at home each day in addition to biking a few days a week.

Surgery Day

The night before my surgery, I tried to hydrate as much as possible and eat a good meal earlier in the evening. I had to stop eating and drinking by 12 am and then I had to get to the surgery center by 615 am. I did my surgery as an outpatient procedure meaning I didn't stay the night there. I was pretty worried when I got there but all the nurses and doctors were really nice and made me feel really safe and gave me plenty of information to keep my mind at ease.

I got an IV of a saline solution for a while then they moved me to the recovery area to administer my nerve blocker, which numbed my leg via my femeral artery. They gave me the first of my anesthesia after explaining how they did the nerve blocker and after speaking to my surgeon and the last time I remember is the nurse getting the ultra sound ready to find the artery they needed to put the leg numbing medicine in. It was about 7:05 am.

Next thing I remember, it's 9:55 am and I'm in the recovery area with an enormous brace on my leg. I was very fortunate that I woke up easily and without any nausea or discomfort. It was weird have a heavy numb leg but I'd prefer that to pain. When the nurse came by to ask me how I was feeling, I responded, "like a million bucks," and I meant it. I was so happy to be done with that phase of my recovery and ready to start getting my strength back. They gave me a snack, got me dressed and allowed my parents to come see me. By 11 am, they were preparing to discharge me. My parents got my prescriptions and the nurse wheeled me out to our car and I went home.

I am very fortunate that I'm able to stay with my parents and they are able to care for me while I'm going through this. Definitely try to find someone to stay with you or visit you at least those first few days after the surgery. You have to have someone to drive you there and back and monitor you that first day but I'm now on day two and am still very dependent on my parents for help getting food and drinks since its hard to carry things while on crutches.

Another piece of advice I'd give someone else going through a similar surgery/recovery time is to remember you had an intense surgery. The medicine you are prescribed will help to alleviate some of the pain but it won't get rid of all of it. I'm focusing on resting and being as active as possible, within reason, and just remembering to take my medication on time. As I move through my recovery, I'll update my blog on my status and talk about my experiences.



  1. Your injury was intense indeed. But looking at the bright side, your case is treatable, so you're still lucky. Accidents like this must not be delayed before seeking attention, and you should only look to a trusted physician. In addition to that, it is true that company in times like this will make a big difference. How are your legs now, by the way?

    Loura Swader @US Health Works

  2. Sorry for the delayed response! My knee is great now! I have almost the same range of motion as before my injury. Though I'm cleared to run and exercise, I'm waiting to participate in any competitive sports.

    Yes, I was very lucky to have such a treatable injury and that it occurred when I was young and fit. My recovery time was pretty short.