The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 92)

The road to ACL recovery is full of peaks and plateaus. Excitement over sudden improvements should be tempered, and disappointment over lack of progress should be limited. It’s a game of patience, and with hard work, improvement comes in time. 

I haven’t posted here in three weeks, and that is because progress had been minimal. I continued to add weight resistance to my rehab exercises, but hadn’t noticed any significant changes in my quality of life.

On Thursday I had a breakthrough. We started doing lateral movements, quick steps on the ground called “the ladder.” This is really exciting, and will be my focus for the next month as I move towards the goal of jugging, just in time for some pleasant early evening summer runs across the Williamsburg bridge.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 72)

A shade over two months after surgery, I’ve graduated to some more rigorous PT exercises as I pursue the next frontier: jumping. We did some testing yesterday to see if I was ready, and while my hip abduction (lying on my side, lifting my leg) was at full strength, the quad was still week. This was surprising, considering that my biking is almost up to full speed. Biking, I suppose, can be a misleading indicator.

I have upgraded to one of my favorite exercises: standing on a balance board and pivoting slightly to the left or right to catch balls being thrown at me, or, in this case, bouncing at me off a trampoline. Feels like sports again.

Pain comes and goes these days, so the two-month mark doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. I still ice my knee almost every day when I come home, especially if I’ve been walking or standing a lot.

I’ll update next when I finally get some air time.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 59)

I didn’t want to jump the gun and celebrate early,  but as we approach Friday evening, I have now gone without a cane or crutch for the entire week!

I probably could have ditched it slightly earlier, especially if it weren’t for those dastardly subway stars. Now, however, I’ve reached the point that a gentle lean on a rail is enough to stabilize even a rush-hour-paced ascent.

Last weekend I went to a dance party for many hours without feeling an ounce of pain. My sidewalk speed is probably at 90%. My stationary bike resistance level is also approaching 90%. Simply put- life’s basics are no longer out of reach.

Next week at PT I hope to start doing some work that’ll put me on a path to jumping again. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking in at least one respect: my insurance company just sent me a letter that I only have four covered sessions left. I’m sure once I get my surgeon involve we can boost that number, but insurance may well be a battle going forward.

 

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 50)

Happy to reach the 50-day landmark without any major setbacks. Today was a fruitful Day 50 – after a robust PT session in the morning I saw my surgeon, Dr. Marx, for the second time since the surgery. Last time I couldn’t yet walk, and still had nasty stitches in my knee. Today he said my gait looked great, my flexibility was outstanding, and that everything was progressing on or ahead of schedule.

Even stairs are getting a little easier. I still need to use a rail to get up and down the subway, but I no longer to lean on both my cane and the rail. In fact, at this point the can is mostly a signal to other people that I’m recovering from an injury, rather than practically necessary.

This Saturday I’m going to my first dance party since the surgery. I expect there will be lots of breaks for sitting down, and I won’t exactly have my usual moves. (When healthy, I like getting pretty low.) Still, first dance party counts as a landmark.

The next real landmark will be jumping or running. I’ll let you know when that gets humming.

 

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 39)

On the eve of Day 40, I’m pretty close to ditching the cane, cool a fashion item as it is. I don’t need it on short trips at all, and if it weren’t for NYC’s treacherous subway system I would have probably left it behind by now.

Something new is happening at PT: I am sweating! That means the workouts are becoming aerobically challenging. I am actually strengthening my leg and getting back into shape, not merely trying move my leg up and down like in the early days. Spending time on machines, biking with resistance, and doing wall squats. It feels good to sweat.

It’s not as if the pain is gone. I have awkward ‘pops’ a few times a day from cartilage moving around. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with my knee super stiff or sore. And stairs are stairs. They’ll be tough for a while. But overall, progress marches on.

Next report will be after my surgeon check-in on Tuesday.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 33)

Now more than a month in, I am excited to report that I am using a cane instead of crutches. In fact, I don’t even need the cane for walking, but it is still pretty essential for navigating subway stairs.

PT can still be challenging and lead to soreness. That’s the nature of PT- if it’s too easy, you’re not working the knee hard enough. Currently we’re working on “e-centric” strength, the quad muscles that allow you to lift up and come down on stairs. We’re also down to twice a week.

The best thing I heard last week was my therapist saying that my flexibility (140 degrees) is the best she’s ever seen at this stage of ACL recovery.

If I had to pick one inconvenience, it still remains quite uncomfortable to stay seated or standing for any extended period of time. Getting up every few minutes to stretch things out is essential.

 

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 28)

My recollection of my last ACL recovery is that it that it goes through spikes and plateaus. Great progress one week might be followed by two weeks of little gain. Before now I hadn’t a plateau of any length, but Week 3 proved to be an uneven one.

Here’s the good:

1) My left knee flexibility is 135 degrees unassisted, 140 degrees assisted.  My right knee is also 140 degrees, so I am close to achieving full flexibility less than a month in. Everyone thinks that is pretty remarkable.

2) On flatness, I am only one to two degrees from zero, which is the goal (a flattened leg). For me, this is a big improvement, but no rest ’til zero.

3) My quad is gaining strength, though it’s still got a long way to go.

4) On flat ground, I don’t really need a brace at all, and only have one outdoors in case I hit an uneven patch or crowded area.

Here’s the mixed:

The main focus of Weeks 3 & 4 will be stairs – developing the quad strength and jnee stability to go up and down them unassisted. A week ago, I found stairs impossible, and had to scuttle up half a step at a time, leaning on subway stair rails. Today I can gingerly go up and down stairs with a light tough on a rail or crutch. A week ago I couldn’t even try the exercises designed to build up this strength. Today I actually fell during PT for the first time attempting side step-up exercise, but at least it was at the conclusion of a full set. Progress. Slow progress.

Here’s the bad:

Last night I felt a cracking in my left knee, and pain followed. Ever since then (24 hours ago), my knee has been tender, and two crutches have felt preferable to one. My knee is locking up frequently, as opposed to just once in a while. My PT believes that this is related to the scar tissue that the new exercises are designed to break up. Loose cartilage and scar tissue floating through my knee is causing this discomfort and knee locking. They don’t seem worried at all at the PT office. It will pass.

 

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