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What They Don’t Tell You About ACL Surgery Recovery

After being a technical ballerina for over 10 years, I had never experienced anything more painful than recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery. For those who are unfamiliar, the surgery was on my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is a critical component to the function of the knee, aiding all movements required in physical activity. I tore my ACL by incorrectly dismounting a tour jete(a high turning leap) in my ballet class. After meeting with an orthopedic specialist and getting an MRI, it was determined that my injury required surgery with a recovery time of about 6-9 months. 

My First Reaction: 

My first thought after hearing this news was probably something along the lines of “it’s my senior year, this can’t be happening!” I was so worried about being able to participate in activities at school and enjoying my last year of high school. My surgery was going to be the week before school started which means I would still be in a whole lot of pain on the first day of school. I was absolutely devastated and terrified of everything that was happening. At this point, I only knew one other person who had this injury, so I was not feeling very confident that I would be okay in the end. I was also embarrassed about getting hurt in front of my entire ballet class. I was one of the most experienced dancers there and I felt like my injury exposed me for not being as good as I thought I was at that time. In fact, this idea continues to diminish my confidence and desire to return to dance.  

Surgery Day: 

On the morning of my surgery, I woke up around 5:00 to drive over with my parents. I remember having to lay across the backseat of my mom’s car so I could keep my leg elevated. I also felt dizzy and confused because I was not able to eat for 12 hours in preparation for this day. Basically, we were off to a great start. When we got to the surgery center, my mom helped me put on my hospital gown and wheeled me into the exam room so I could be prepped for my procedure. Although I was notified beforehand that I would need to be hooked up to an IV, I cried hysterically about being injected with sedatives. Eventually, the nurse was able to calm me down and once I started taking the medicine, I felt much better. I do not remember falling asleep, but I do remember waking up with bandages all over my leg and wearing a huge knee brace. 

My Life Post-Op:

My life “post-op” or post-operation, was anything but what I expected. Something I did not know before is that when your body is accustomed to intense physical activity on a regular basis, it can be very difficult to adjust if those practices are halted. In addition to not being able to participate in my dance practices, I was also getting used to a daily regime of prescription painkillers and physical therapy. This combination caused my body to shut down in a way that made me extremely drowsy and lethargic throughout the day. Additionally, I was struggling with a condition known as ACL Depression Syndrome. While it is much different from the various types of depression which are diagnosed by a doctor, this is more situational than chronic. Essentially, it is when you feel a sense of hopelessness due to being excluded from everyday activities and tasks you enjoy. I often blamed myself for my injury and felt angry at the universe for putting me in this harsh situation. Throughout my recovery, many of my friends and classmates from dance tried to reach out to me, often asking about my progress. Looking back, I wish I had appreciated this more because, at the time, I saw it as them rushing me back to dance and ignoring the fact that I wanted to get better in my own time. Now I understand that my peers just missed me and wanted to make sure I knew they were thinking of me during this time. 

Getting Back to Normal: 

After a few months of being on crutches and wearing my knee brace, I was able to graduate to just wearing a brace every day for support. Soon after continued physical therapy and independent gym sessions, I was able to make a full recovery. In March 2020, I had my final appointment with my orthopedic surgeon in which she gave me the “green light” to participate in dance again. I was so relieved knowing that I had overcome so much in just a few months. Although I was not able to return to dance due to the pandemic, I do try to fit a healthy exercise routine into my schedule every week just to stay in shape. Since I went so long without being able to walk, I also try to get outside and walk around once a day. The most important aspect of injury recovery I learned is the importance of working to maintain the strides that were made before, in order to prevent future injuries. 

How I Am Doing Today:

Presently, I am better than ever in terms of my ability to use my knee. Since the weather has started to get colder, my knee often becomes sore or it randomly tenses up throughout the day. Additionally, my mental health has improved significantly since I am able to participate in any physical activities I want. 

Overall, overcoming ACL reconstruction surgery taught me so much about resilience and understanding that injury recovery takes time and patience no matter how serious it is. These types of experiences can be life-changing. I believe anyone who can overcome an injury should be celebrated because injuries are no walk in the park. 

Alyssa is a junior broadcast journalism major at Temple University. She has a passion for entertainment media and dreams of being a Red Carpet correspondent one day. Alyssa is also a Pisces that loves watching Gilmore Girls and eating French toast. You can follow her on Instagram @alyssathreadgill
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