While coaching our athletes, performance specialists at Accelerate ACL are trained to use positive cues as much as possible. In general, we try not to use terms like “Do not do x,” because we find athletes respond and learn much better to the more positive version of the cue like “Try doing y.”
However, there are some aspects of recovering after ACL surgery that are so important, we can’t mince words. These are the areas of your recovery that set the entire trajectory of your recovery process if you get them right.
So, without further ado, here are 5 things NOT to do after ACL surgery.
1. Do Not Be Timid
First and foremost, ACL surgery is not the time to be timid. From selecting your surgeon, physical therapist, and performance specialist all the way through to your return to sport, be ready to ask a lot of questions. Always remember, YOU are your own biggest advocate when it comes to your recovery after ACL surgery. Speak up, let your voice be heard, and make sure everyone on your recovery team understands your goals and is doing everything you can to help you get there.
2. Do Not Fear Pain
Let’s just face it – pain is going to be a part of the recovery process. There’s just no getting around it. Now, let’s take a deep breath, accept it for what it is, and talk about what pain IS. Pain is nothing more than an alarm sent by the nervous system to stop you from doing something it perceives to be dangerous. Understand, the nervous system has just gone through a significant trauma when it realized it no longer had an ACL. Compound that with the trauma of being operated on, and the nervous system is likely MUCH more sensitive than it normally would be.
It’s your job throughout the recovery process to reinstill the nervous system’s confidence in movement. With the nervous system already in such a heightened state, you’ll have two choices when it comes to pain. You can choose to fear it or choose to accept it. When you fear pain, you’ll double down on the neurophysiological feedback mechanisms that are already driving the pain, potentially making it stick around longer and with higher intensity than it would otherwise. When you accept the pain, you’ll help to relax the nervous system’s defensive mechanisms and be on your way to overcoming the hurdle of pain after ACL surgery.
3. Do Not Ignore Lifestyle Factors
In order to set yourself up for an optimal recovery, you’ll need to optimize the conditions of the body FOR recovery. If you think that working your butt off at PT is all that’s required to get you from point A to point B as quickly as possible, think again.
Ask yourself, what does the body need to promote a state of recovery? First and foremost, it needs to be properly nourished. If you weren’t already eating an athlete’s diet before surgery, now is the time to start. Ensure you are getting everything the body needs to recover properly through nutrition and you are staying well hydrated throughout the recovery process.
Secondly, do whatever you can (preferably short of medication) to get some sleep. Sleep is when the majority of the body’s recovery processes amplify. So, try to spend 8-10 hours/night in this state and see what it does for your recovery.
4. Do Not Mindlessly Execute Exercises
If you’re like most of our clients, you are a “go getting” athlete. You work harder than anyone else in the weight room and lead your teammates during conditioning drills. You have a “whatever it takes” attitude. You’re exactly what a coach wants in his/her athletes. BUT, during the recovery process after ACL surgery, do NOT let this mentality make you believe “the more reps, the better.” Too often, we see elite athletes mindlessly blow through exercises without thinking about what they are trying to accomplish. As we talked about in the pain section above, recovery after ACL surgery is mostly about re-training the nervous system to trust the knee.
In order to train the nervous system as efficiently as possible, we need FOCUS. That means we need to know WHAT to focus on with our various exercises and to EXECUTE the exercises with focus. Ask for feedback from your PTs and performance specialists throughout the recovery process about how your position looks in the exercises and what you should be feeling. Work to make your position as perfect as possible and feel the muscles working that are intended to be working.
You’ll be surprised at how much more efficiently your body can learn with focus, as opposed to mindless execution of exercises.
5. Do Not Doubt Yourself
Last, but certainly not least, do not doubt yourself while recovering after ACL surgery. Recovering from this type of injury is HARD and proposes its own unique challenges to every athlete. The process is full of ups and downs, so its important not to get caught up in the day to day fluctuations.
Keep your eyes on the high level trend of your recovery and focus on the end goal. Rather than look at each challenge as a negative, try to see it as an opportunity. How can I use this opportunity to LEARN something about my body? When you take this mindset into the recovery process, you will be that much more likely to come back from the ACL injury bigger, faster, and stronger than you were before.
As always, feel free to comment below or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.