Well, I pretty much failed at writing an update on my ACL reconstruction surgery each week. I really wish I had so that I could look back at where I was each week and track my progress easily… but life/work/Blend got in the way. So, I’m going to do my best to remember what happened during the first few weeks after surgery and go from there! This is probably going to be a bit all over the place- but hopefully it will make some sense.
Looking back at what the first week post-op was like, I can happily say that things got much better after that. I was a little nervous going in for my first post-op appointment. Even though I had done everything I was supposed to (which was basically nothing) I was nervous that my progress wouldn’t be where my doctor wanted. I was definitely relieved when he told me that my progress looked great (and right on track)! I had four out of five sets of stitches removed (all but the large incision) and was told I could decrease my CPM time to 8 hours a day (which is a lot better than 12-14!).
I also started driving again that week and was able to walk around (slowly, with a limp) with my leg brace on.
Later that week, I started physical therapy. In that first session, the therapist measured the degree to which I could bend (which wasn’t far beyond 90˚) and straighten my leg (I was a few degrees off). She had me do all kinds of different “straight leg lift” exercises to engage my quads, hip flexors and glutes. I also had to work on quad sets, which is just flexing your quad. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to flex my quad- it was as if my brain stopped communicating with my muscles! The combination of the trauma and the swelling can make it extremely difficult to flex your quad (like you normally would) and I was told to just keep doing it over and over again to help keep the muscle strong.
Like the first week, I still had to protect my stitches from water when showering. Rather than wrapping a trash bag around my leg, my doctor suggested covering it with layers of plastic wrap and taping it up.
It definitely worked!
At my next appointment with my orthopedic surgeon (at two weeks post-op) I was able to get the stitches from my large incision removed, which meant that I could finally shower with no plastic wrap on my leg! I was pretty shocked at how the incision looked after the stitches were removed- I was expecting it to look a lot worse! Apparently there have been so many advancements in surgery over the last few years and scarring is much more minimal now. I was also instructed to “massage” all of the scars to reduce scar tissue build-up (which can be really nasty).
At the beginning of my second PT session my therapist Katie had me get on a recumbent bike. She put the seat back as far as it would go (so that I could still reach the pedals) and told me to try to do a full revolution (with no resistance). That first time around was super hard- it felt like someone tied a rope around my knee and pulled it tight over and over again every time my knee would bend. But, the longer I was on the bike, the easier it got to pedal. I was a little blown away by how difficult it was to ride an exercise bike with NO resistance (when just two weeks before I was teaching Spinning class!).
I also started going back to the gym most days of the week to lift upper body and do my PT exercises. Here’s a gym selfie for you on my first day back.
Over the next two weeks, I continued to see little changes and improvements each day. Any changes have been barely noticeable on some days and more drastic on others. While I was away in Utah for Blend, I was able to walk down the stairs like a “normal” person for the first time (not taking one step at a time). It sounds silly, but that was a big deal for me!
I’ve religiously done my PT exercises twice a day, every day. Some days it can be a pain and I definitely feel like my life revolves around physical therapy, but it’s definitely helping my recovery go by faster and be better overall. My PT exercises can take anywhere from 25 – 45 minutes and I usually do one set first thing in the morning and the other in the late afternoon.
The swelling has definitely started to go down more over the last week, but it’s far from gone. I had Greg take some photos of my knee over the weekend to document where I’m at. One is further away so I could see a better comparison of both legs, the other a close-up on my lovely knees:
As you can also see, I’ve got dry skin around my left knee. It’s supposedly some side-effect from the incisions and doesn’t itch or anything- it just looks ugly. I’m pretty pleased with how the scars look so far and think that they will fade a lot more in time. I’ve also started feeling some “weird” sensations and tingling around my knee this past week, which is likely nerve activity. My doctor advised me to wear my leg brace only through week three, but I still continue to wear a compression wrap because it just makes my knee feel more secure.
My therapist measured the circumference of different areas of my leg in PT today because I was interested to see if there was much of a difference. Around my left (operative) knee was 1 cm larger than my right (due to swelling) and around my quads was equal on both legs. There was also a difference in the measurement of my calves- my right is 1 cm larger than the left. I’m trying everything I can to keep my muscles as strong as possible, but inevitably, they are weaker on my left leg. The PT also measured the degree of flexion (bend) in my left knee today- and it’s at 115˚ unassisted. We were both happy with that!
In the last week especially, I’ve gone through times of feeling a bit sorry for myself. Even though I am trying my best to keep a positive attitude as much as possible, it still totally sucks to not be able to do anything outdoors that I would like to do. My friends (and Greg) are able to enjoy hiking and mountain biking and all of that fun stuff, and it makes me sad that I can’t participate. BUT- I know that this will pass and hopefully I’ll be back at it sooner than I think. Since the new ACL takes a while to get stronger, there’s not much you can do to speed up that part of the recovery (it takes at least 6 months to a year be fully recovered!). The best thing I can do is keep up with my PT to keep my legs strong and be careful not to re-injure the ligament. The only silver lining that has come out of this so far is that I’ve lost about eight pounds in the last four weeks! I’m thinking that a pound or two might be muscle (though I’ve been working really hard to keep as much muscle as possible) but the most of it should be fat since my clothes are fitting a little better. Since I’m not working out nearly as intensely as I used to (and not doing any cardio) I’m not as hungry all the time (and eating less). That puts me back at my pre-moving-to-Colorado weight, so I can’t complain about that!
That’s it for now- have a great day!