Children's Hospital Colorado
ANTERIOR CRUCIATE LIGAMENT (ACL) SURGERY

Healing the Whole Athlete

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Our experienced family

Carolyn

When Carolyn tore her ACL during a tournament last year, she feared that it could be career-ending. Her parents Mary and Tim still remember her initial devastation. Now, they're all looking forward to Carolyn living out her soccer dreams.

Our new family

Erin

Erin recently tore her ACL during soccer practice. She knows she's out for this season, but she and her mom Carla want to ensure Erin fully heals before getting back on the field so she can continue playing the sports she loves.

HOW TO SAY IT
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Anterior cruciate ligament
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Children's Hospital Colorado's Dr. Albright gives an overview of ACL tears.
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Jay Albright, MD: ACL tear overview

"You'll be stronger in a different way. You'll get there."

Carolyn, athlete who recovered from an ACL tear

Repairing the tear

Athletes fear that they may someday feel the tear of an ACL, but an ACL tear doesn't have to be career-ending. With the right treatment, care team and mindset, athletes can heal and safely return to their sport.

ACL surgery overview

Learn about ACL surgery and how our surgeons ensure the best outcomes for growing athletes.

96% ACL reconstruction graft success after 24 months
4,000+ Coaches educated in 2016 to help reduce sports injuries
53 Dedicated pediatric sports medicine specialists
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ACL graft options

Choosing the best ACL graft for your young athlete's surgery can be challenging. Learn about the options.

Learn about ACL surgery
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Pediatric ACL specialist

Dr. Albright has one of the lowest ACL retear rates in the country and is determined to keep athletes safe and active for life.

Meet Dr. Albright
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What is an ACL injury?

The ACL is a commonly injured ligament in the knee that stabilizes the knee during sports and activities.

Learn about ACL injuries
Carolyn sits with her mom, Mary, while she talks about Carolyn's ACL injury.

"Why not take advantage of the research that shows the best recovery?"

Mary, Carolyn's mom

ACL surgery

Treating a young athlete is different than treating an adult. That's why we've pioneered new techniques to best heal growing athletes physically and mentally. Dr. Albright explains the graft options for ACL surgery.

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Our sports medicine team

Our pediatric orthopedic experts are specially trained to care for growing athletes.

Meet our specialists

"I want you back on the field as quickly as we can get you there, but that quickly means safely."

Dr. Albright, pediatric orthopedic surgeon
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Anesthesiology for growing athletes

Our anesthesiologists are pediatric experts who provide comfort and pain control during and after a surgery or procedure.

Learn more

Rehabilitation

Timeline for ACL rehabilitation

ACL injury recovery is different for every athlete. You should follow your care team's recommendations for your rehabilitation. Here's a sample timeline and recovery process from our physical therapists (PT).

  • Change your dressing within 48 hours after your surgery. Make sure that your steri-strips remain intact.
  • Re-apply your ace bandage; this will help with swelling and will act as a barrier between the ice and your skin.
  • Schedule your first physical therapy visit (usually 5 to 7 days after your surgery).
  • Meet with your PT to summarize what to expect. Your PT will remove the compression sleeve and wrap around your knee; it's normal to have a swollen and bruised knee at this time.
  • Focus on reducing pain and inflammation, moving your knee and working on strengthening your quadriceps.
  • Slowly start to wean off the dependence on crutches and begin weight bearing as your PT directs.
  • Wear your brace at all times until you can perform 75 straight leg raises; this will ensure safety when you walk without your brace.
  • Continue to improve your range of motion between 0 to 90 degrees in the first two weeks, then up to 110 degrees by the third and fourth week.
  • You'll likely start core and hip training. Hip strength plays a crucial role in controlling your knee.
  • Ride the stationary bike to help your blood circulate around your knee; this will help the recovery process and increase your range of motion.
  • Start balance, stability and strength exercises as guided by your PT.
  • Biking should feel normal; increase resistance as your strength improves.
  • Continue to work on reducing swelling, regaining (and maintaining) range of motion and building strength in your legs, hips and core.
  • Remember to be aware of your body's pain and swelling and use this as a guide to how far you can push your limits.
  • Focus on improving your single leg so that it's similar to your other leg before you start running and jumping.
  • You should have your full range of motion returned by 10-12 weeks; this means getting your heel to your buttock just like your other side.
  • Your PT will determine when you're ready to run based on your strength and how well you can control your knee during specific exercises.
  • Typically at 3 to 4 months, you are fitted with your return-to-sport brace that should be worn whenever you run or jump outside of therapy.
  • During 4 to 9 months, focus on building strength in your quadriceps, hamstrings and hip stabilizers.
  • After sufficient strength is achieved, you will progress slowly to impact activities.
  • At Children's Colorado, you will progress through a jumping program in your home exercise program.
  • Work on regaining cardiovascular and muscular endurance to prepare for the physical demands of your sport.
  • At Children's Colorado, you must be cleared by your surgeon and PT before you can start playing sports again. This will usually require a test conducted by your PT to assess your strength, speed and how well you control your knee. The test typically covers demands that will be expected for your sport.
  • The return-to-sport test varies for each young athlete. You could take it anywhere between month 9 and 11 depending on your recovery process.
  • Once you're cleared to return to sports, it is important to return progressively. This means practicing for several weeks or months before you are ready to play in a game. Your PT will help you plan a safe return-to-sport progression depending on your sport, level and time of season.
  • Typically, we require that you wear your return-to-sport brace for at least one year with physical activity, and then gradually progress out of the brace pending your strength and comfort. Most patients will continue to wear their brace for two years after their surgery.
  • Remember to continue strength training at least 2-3 times per week, in addition to any practices or other sporting events you might have. This keeps your legs strong and helps reduce the risk of future injuries.
  • Continue working on is mental training and trusting your body and all the work you've put in throughout your rehabilitation process.
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ACL recovery

Every athlete heals differently. Learn how our athletic trainers ensure athletes are ready to play before sending them back to their sport.

Learn about ACL recovery times
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Sports Medicine Center

We offer pediatric sports medicine expertise to deliver full-service care for growing bodies.

Learn how we treat athletes
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Sports psychology and recovery

Sports injuries affect more than muscles and bones so it's important to heal both mind and body.

Learn how psychology impacts recovery
Mary talks about her daughter's ACL surgery recovery.

"It's not about next year's basketball season; it's about life."

Mary, Carolyn's mom
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Find a doctor

Browse and connect with world-class pediatric specialists at Children's Hospital Colorado.

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Meet more patients

We paired newly diagnosed families with others who have been through the journey.

See their stories

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