When to Return to Play: Predicting When Your ACL Graft Has Healed

ACL graft recovery

One of the most common questions athletes have after undergoing an ACL graft, is when they can return to play. Like any surgery, it is important for patients to rest and recover until they are fully healed. Returning too soon to sport increases the risk of the need for repeat surgery, graft rupture and knee osteoarthritis.

So, how can you tell when it is the right time to return to play? Here, we’ll look at how to predict when your ACL graft has healed.

MRI imaging can be a good indicator

One of the main way’s physicians determine how well an ACL graft is healing, is through MRI imaging. While this can’t necessarily determine the strength of the joint, it can be used as a good baseline.

Studies have shown that ACL grafts follow a predictive pattern of healing over a 12-month period. However, these studies have been quite small so further research would prove useful to determine a more precise picture.

Factors that affect ACL graft recovery

There are a number of factors which can affect ACL graft recovery. These include:

  • Strength and flexibility
  • Age
  • Graft choice
  • Aftercare

The strength and flexibility of the joint will ultimately impact how quickly a patient heals from an ACL graft. The stronger and more flexible the joint, the quicker patients will recover. This is why physical therapy is provided after the surgery. By strengthening up the joint, it will reduce recovery time and see athletes returning to play much quicker.

Age is also a factor, with older patients typically finding it takes longer to recover. The choice of graft could impact recovery. There are several types of ACL graft procedures that can be carried out. Experts claim more research needs to be undertaken to determine how the different types of graft impact recovery.

Finally, aftercare is another factor to consider. It is really important for patients to follow aftercare instructions provided by the surgeon. This aids in the healing process, ensuring best results are experienced.

How long does it usually take to return to sport?

On average, just over half of patients return to a competitive level of sport within 1-2 years. Approximately 80% of those who have undergone ACL reconstruction return to some level of sport, so the statistics are quite good. Many patients start returning to play within six months, although this will differ depending on a variety of factors.

It is difficult to give an accurate picture of how long the recovery process will take. While MRI imaging can be provided to give an indication of healing, it doesn’t provide an exact timeframe for recovery.

The best way for patients to get back to the sport they love, is to follow the guidelines given to them by their surgeon. Studies have shown going back to sport too early increases the risk of re-injury. This would result in a greater amount of time off and potentially end your career. So, taking enough time to heal is essential for those looking to return to play.

For more advice on ACL graft recovery, call 08450 60 44 99 to arrange a consultation with Mr Jonathan Webb at his Bristol knee clinic.