Well, it’s been 3 months since I’ve written anything on here, so I figure that now is as good a time as ever to add some new content to this thing. The main reason why I haven’t written anything is that, frankly, there hasn’t been anything interesting to write about. Months 1-3 of ACL rehab consist of very few things that aren’t mind-numbingly boring; the exercises are simple and boring*, the stretching is painful and boring, and the cardio is both mind-numbing and ass-numbing (lots and lots of biking.)
But if you do some simple math, you can figure out that 3 months is roughly equal to 12 weeks (3 months x ~4 weeks/month = ~12 weeks.) The reason why 12 weeks is significant is because that is how long it takes for graft-to-bone healing. Basically, at 12 weeks you now have a real ligament, not just a piece of random sinew screwed into your bones. The reason why that is significant is because your rehab will change immensely after this 12 week milestone. For one thing, you will get to run again. This is both good and bad; on the one hand, you’ll be absolutely tickled pink to be able to get off that goddamn uncomfortable bike seat and onto a treadmill.
For some, however, your joy will quickly turn to apprehension as you realize that your running mechanics are not exactly how you remember them. Actually, there’s a very good chance that you will feel like an uncoordinated loser your first time up on the treadmill. I was able to regain some semblance of a normal gait after a few jogging sessions, but that first day was pretty awkward.
The 12-week milestone comes with a lot of awkward firsts, including various agility drills and plyometrics. I had heard of people recovering from surgery having mental blocks about performing certain movements during their rehabilitation, and I thought that I probably wouldn’t be one of those people due to my perceived mental toughness. But it turns out I absolutely am one of those people, and landing after jumping is now a terrifying experience for me. One of the exercises that I do now is one where I jump from the floor onto a mini trampoline, then jump from the mini tramp back to the floor. Sticking the landing after jumping off the trampoline for the first time is one of the more nerve-wracking moments I’ve had since the beginning of rehab. I couldn’t see myself when I landed that first jump, but I know that I was cringing big-time, and I imagine that my facial expression greatly resembled Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “guitar face.”
While these new agility drills bring an elevated level of peril to my workouts, it feels great to finally be making athletic moves again after an 11-month layoff. And not only making those moves, but actually feeling confident in my body’s ability to pull off those moves without crumpling awkwardly to the ground. I’m still a little apprehensive at times, but I’m starting to grow more and more comfortable with things like jumping and running every day, and I’m getting to the point where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The period between 3-4 months post-op is where many athletes make their largest strength gains, so I’m excited to see how far I can progress between now and January. Really the only limiting factor I have right now is some patellofemoral pain that I’m suffering, which leads me to my next point: don’t use a patellar graft.
The one piece of advice that I would give to those who are planning on having ACL surgery in the near future is to not use a patellar tendon graft. Why? Because it’s flat-out painful. Kneeling is near-impossible for me, and I experience pain right over top of my kneecap when doing most exercises (jogging is especially inflammatory.)
Not only is it painful, but it’s actually affecting my strength gains. For example, I can’t kick out as hard as my muscles will allow during knee extensions due the pain in my kneecap. Everything inside the knee is fine, but the graft site on the outside of the kneecap is so tender that it flares up every time I contract my quadriceps. Eccentric exercise, for some reason, is when it acts up the most. It will get better with time, but it’s certainly frustrating to be limited by it during the time when I’m supposed to be making the biggest strides strength-wise.
So to summarize: doing athletic stuff again is cool, patellofemoral pain sucks, and this:
*I’ve never seen another YouTube video where a heavy metal soundtrack was so poorly-chosen and unfitting.