Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Surgery
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
ACL surgery is done to reconstruct the ACL in the knee after it is torn.
Reasons for Procedure
This surgery is done in people who have not been helped by other methods, such as physical therapy and bracing. It is also done when a person has loss of function and problems doing activities.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
The doctor may give:
Description of the Procedure
A tendon in the knee or hamstring will be used to reconstruct the torn ligament. Sometimes a donor graft is used. The tendon will be formed to the correct size.
A few small incisions will be made on the top of the knee. Tools will be placed through the incisions. The torn ACL will be removed. Any other damage to the knee may also be repaired. Holes will be drilled through bones in the thigh and shin. The new graft will be placed through these holes. Needles may be threaded through the holes to hold the new tendon in place. Other devices, such as screws, washers, or staples are also used to hold the graft in place. The incisions will be closed with stitches.
Once the graft is securely in place, the knee’s range of motion will be tested. Other tests will be done as well. The skin will be closed with stitches. Bandages will be used.
How Long Will It Take?
About 2 hours
Will It Hurt?
Pain and swelling are common in the first 1 to 2 weeks. Medicine and home care can help manage it.
Average Hospital Stay
You may be able to go home the same day. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.
At the Hospital
After the procedure, the staff may:
During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:
You can also lower your chance of infection by:
It will take a few weeks for the incisions to heal. Physical activity will need to be limited during recovery. You will need to ask for help with daily activities and delay your return to work. Full recovery can take up to a year.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Evidence-based clinical practice guideline for management of anterior cruciate ligament injuries. AAOS 2014 Sep 5 PDF.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dyname.... Updated June 26, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2020.
Anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated March 2014. Accessed July 17, 2020.
Knee ligament repair. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at.
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 17, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated: 3/24/2021
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