What is ACL reconstruction surgery, and why is it needed?

Reconstruction surgery for the anterior cruciate ligament – or ACL – replaces a torn ACL using arthroscopic (key hole) surgery. The procedure replaces the ACL itself using a graft known as an autograft which is taken from another part of the patient’s body such as the kneecap tendon or hamstring tendon.

ACL reconstruction surgery patients typically have a knee which is not functioning as it should. ACL reconstruction surgery repairs existing damage and prevents the condition of the knee cartilage from worsening. Many sports players require ACL surgery, particularly if they are involved in a sport which places a lot of pressure on the ligament, such as Rugby, basketball or football.

What can I expect from the procedure?

Before a procedure, an ACL reconstruction surgery patient will discuss their anaesthesia method with an anaesthetist. Following the administration of the general or regional anaesthesia, the procedure will begin. It typically takes around 60-90 minutes depending on other injuries which may require attention at the same time.

In the case of an arthroscopic surgery, two or three small incisions are made and an autograft is taken from a suitable site which would have been discussed with surgeon. This graft or autograft can then be passed through the tunnels made in the femur and tibia. The graft is then fixed in the bone tunnels with screws or pins until it incorporates in the surrounding bone. Local anaesthetic is then infiltrated in the knee joint and the wound for post-operative pain relief.

ACL reconstruction recovery time

Following reconstruction surgery for an injured or torn ACL, patients are allowed to fully weightbear from very next day. They may need a knee splint for a week or two until quadriceps control returns. Physiotherapy plays an important part in patient’s recovery and there compliance with rehab regimen is crucial. Time to return to work can vary and this will depend on the nature of their job. Jobs which require heavy lifting or long periods of standing can take from 6-12 weeks to return safely. Patients can begin cycling or jogging three months after surgery but contact sports is allowed only after nine months.