It’s been over a year since I tore my ACL, and many are surprised to learn I have not had surgery. I pause when sharing this information because I don’t want to cause bias or suggest that my story is ‘the way’ regarding ACL tear recovery. It’s just my story! It’s anecdotal, and I wanted to share it because I’ve had a few people reach out to me who were curious about non-surgical options but couldn’t find many people to share their experiences. It’s also important to note that I have a great medical team here in Bozeman, MT, that helped me make this decision.
First, the good news, and this is what everyone seems to ask first. I am back to all of my regular activities. Running, trail running, weight lifting, nordic skiing, biathlon, and downhill skiing (I only went twice this winter, more on that another time). But all in all, my knee is not holding me back from much of anything at this point. I don’t have pain, swelling, or instability.
Most commonly, people have ACL reconstruction surgery within a few weeks of an ACL tear. But most people don’t know that a (relatively small) percentage of people can do very well without a functioning ACL. Initially, I decided not to have surgery immediately because I didn’t want to interrupt working with patients. I wanted time to schedule a break from patient care when I had surgery. However, as the weeks passed, my knee felt better and better. I had no instability episodes, so I kept pushing forward and seeing how far I could go.
Some of the things that led me to this decision:
• I had the gift of time. I didn’t have to be back to a specific level of athletic performance in a certain time frame to do my job. If I were, say, a ski patroller and needed to be back on snow in November, my decision may have been different. I could wait multiple months to have surgery if I wanted to. My recreation and training would change, but the ability to perform my job as a PT does not put high demands on my knee daily.
• My injury was isolated to the ACL. I had a complete ACL tear, but luckily other structures in my knee were minimally impacted.
• Other than immediately after the initial injury, I did not experience any instability (my knee giving way).
• I knew that I could commit the time and energy needed to get the most out of my physical therapy and rehabilitation program.
• As I started increasing my activity levels, I didn’t experience increased swelling or any pain in my knee.
It’s important to understand that I may still need surgery in the future if I start experiencing instability, but things are going well for now! I even completed a trail race last weekend.
Check out Part II for the science-based aspects and synopsis of relevant studies.
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