Regaining Confidence After Knee Surgery – ACL, Replacement, Arthroscopy

regaining confidence after knee surgery ACL Arthroscopy Knee Replacement

My step-daughter had to have knee surgery and we were wondering what she could expect in the recovery process. Regaining confidence after knee surgery not only has a major physical aspect, but also an emotional and psychological aspect.

I wanted to find out what she and other can expect so I did some research on the best ways to regain confidence after knee surgery and how to go about the process.

So, how do you regain confidence after knee surgery? Work initially on reducing swelling and regaining range of passive motion. Then begin weight-bearing exercises as prescribed by your physician or physical therapist. Be prepared for the process and set appropriate personal goals consistent with your age and physical capabilities; bearing in mind that results may take longer than expected.

If you have just undergone knee surgery, you may be wondering if you will ever be able to make it back to your pre-surgery capabilities. Based on the research, your recovery is going to depend on how you handle the surgery mentally, and how you thought about yourself prior to the arthroscopy, ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), or knee replacement surgery.

There was a study done that showed that individuals who considered themselves to have exceptional balance prior to surgery, demonstrated a higher level of performance after a total knee replacement. Further, they had fewer difficulties acclimating to the new knee joint and returning to a confident level of activities.

While it is crucial to make sure to follow your surgeon’s advice for post-surgical recovery, it can be difficult when access to your surgeon is so limited.

Many patients get confused during the admission and discharge process at a surgery center or hospital. They barely remember what was told to them. Luckily, most facilities will provide you with a list of do’s and don’t’s. Make sure to follow the recommended list of actions.

Here are some common things that your doctor may recommend for you:

  • Read through all of your post-op instructions and follow the detailed instructions to the letter.
  • The discharge instructions should include information about your follow-up appointment. Make sure to get clear when and where it is, as it may not be at the same place where you had surgery.
  • Make sure you attend all of the appointments that are prescribed. Some people may be concerned about additional costs associated with office appointments, but when it comes to something as critical as knee surgery recovery, you won’t want to take a shortcut. Doing so may prolong your recovery or cause lasting problems.
  • Most likely, a physical therapist will be appointed for you. Make sure that you don’t ditch the therapy. Sometimes the exercises may feel silly, but when regaining complete confidence that your knee will function as it did before the surgery, it is crucial to follow through on physical therapy.
  • Make sure that recommended physical therapy exercises are also carried out at home. It’s not a good time to skip rehabilitative work. It may prove to be critical.
  • Follow all instructions and ask questions if you don’t understand something related to your rehabilitation, medication, and limitations on your daily activities.
  • Ask others to support your recovery. After knee surgery, it is not a good time to play the hero. Ask for help. Don’t underestimate how hard this can be especially when you have always been self-sufficient, or don’t like relying on others.

According to research, it’s a stretch to think that you will return to your pre-injury performance level within one year, but statistics improve as you move towards and through the two year mark, and just because you aren’t there at the 12 month mark, doesn’t mean you are done.

Most athletes who were not playing sport at 1 year had returned to some form of sport within 2 years after ACL reconstruction, which may suggest that athletes can take longer than the clinically expected time of 1 year to return to sport. …only 2 of every 5 athletes were playing their pre-injury level of sport at 2 years after surgery…

Ardern (2015)

This is important because often the psychological component of knee surgery recovery weighs down on an individual.

They can begin to wrestle with the notion that they may never be as good as they once were.

This can significantly impair your confidence moving forward. Or, an opportunity to develop true grit.

So what should you expect within the first couple of weeks after surgery?

Usually, the focus is on reducing swelling, managing pain and regaining a decent passive range of motion. A passive range of motion means that someone can move your leg for you and with no major restrictions in the range of motion.

Think crutches and getting plenty of help during this time.

Once your physical therapist gives you the green light on weight bearing activities (usually once swelling has gone down and the passive range of motion is decent, along with some active range of motion indicators), it’s time to move to the next phase of rehabilitation.

How To Regain Confidence After ACL Surgery

When it comes to ACL surgery and recovering your confidence, it can be tricky. The reason is that the anterior cruciate ligament is like an “x” stabilizing the knee joint.

Being from Florida, I have lived through my fair share of hurricanes. I like to think of your ACL as something akin to hurricane straps. Hurricane straps are “x” metal attachments that are wind-speed rated and serve the purpose of keeping your roof attatched to the walls (which are attached to the foundation of the home) in the event of hurricane strength winds.

Likewise the ACL keeps everything “happy” under tension. But, when the ACL goes, all bets are off. Stability becomes a major issue and the athlete is confronted with a knee that no longer serves them. This is where the first psychological hit shows up. Any time we are confronted with our own mortality and limitations, it makes our brains go a little squirrely.

Just like if you knew the hurricane straps were gone (or the strength compromised) on your house, it adds a whole new element of fear to your life.

The what if’s begin to dominate your thoughts.

This can wreak havoc on recovery too.

The positive mindset can easily be blown out the window and you are left with raw nerves, wondering whether the unreliable stability of your knee is going to let you down.

The fact that most athletes need over a year to recover from this type of surgery, makes it quite a journey.

It’s important to prepare your mind for the recovery process. Be okay with how long it takes. Go into it without major anticipation of quick progress. Rather, simply set tons of small goals towards recovery.

Maybe the first goal is to be able to stand for 10 seconds without crutches. Of course, follow the guidelines of your doctor. I think you get my drift.

Make tiny achievable goals; quick wins. That way it keeps you motivated to push forward in your recovery and will add to your quickly gaining confidence around your surgery results.

To use the hurricane straps analogy again, it would be much better to test the new hurricane straps in something rather than a category 5 hurricane. Get through the progression one step at a time.

Don’t rush it.

Related Questions

Can you fully recover from ACL surgery?

Clearly in Arden’s study mentioned above, it is possible to fully recover from ACL surgery. There are many factors that influence recovery time such as age, mental stamina and other factors.

Make sure that you approach your ACL recovery with patience and a commitment to make the best out of it.

Can you play football after ACL surgery?

Here is the dilemma with football. As seen in the study referenced earlier in this post, it can take quite a while to be at a pre-injury level of play.

While many people return to their competitive athletic regimen around the 12-month mark, some of the individuals didn’t return until the 2-year mark.

If you read further in the study, you will see that there was a further key milestone at the 39 month mark. So, if you are playing high school football, you may be out of high school by the time you are ready to play.

Can you play soccer after ACL surgery?

As seen in the football example above, it will really depend on when you are playing competitive soccer.

If you are a professional soccer player then you may be able to work out a full recovery and return to the game, but if you are limited to a season, you may not be able to recover fast enough to return to the level that you were accustomed to before your injury.

It’s important not to get discouraged, however, since this will play a role in your recovery and regaining confidence after knee surgery.

A Story Of Regaining Confidence After A Surgery That Went Wrong

A friend told me the story of an acquaintance of his. He knew a woman who lived in Germany.

Her favorite hobby was volleyball.

She was a competitive person and loved the athletics of the game.

During work hours, she often found her mind drifting to the game and couldn’t wait to play her next match. She truly lived for the excitement of playing.

Unfortunately, she sustained a neck injury which resulted in her need to have surgery.

As a side note, for cervical repairs, they go in through the front of the neck to access the vertebrae. The surgery can be pretty tricky.

A surgical mishap resulted in her being paralyzed from the neck down.

My friend hadn’t seen her in years, but when he saw her at a gathering, he was intrigued. He asked her how she was able to handle the transition from being so unbelievably athletic to being confined to a wheelchair.

She said, “I was depressed for a long time. Then, I began to understand that there are many things that make up life and adds value to our lives. I see beauty in other places now. I use my mind now to engage in activities that have replaced what sports meant to me.”

If you lack confidence in your knee surgery recovery, take heart and recognize that your life is multi-faceted. What is important to you now, may not be years from now.

However, the opportunity to regain confidence after knee surgery is an opportunity to get to know yourself on a new level and grow personally and emotionally from the experience.


Kat Clukey

I am so glad you are here, and have chosen to spend your time reading my blog. I'm a Life Coach through the Procter Gallagher Institute . Since 2013, I have been on an intense mission to read books, go to seminars, and generally turn myself inside out to find out why some people seem to feel good in their own skin while I've struggled with self-worth and low self-esteem most of my adult life. I hope you find insights that help you on your journey!

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