Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: Before Your Surgery

Main Content

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: Before Your Surgery

What is anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction?

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery replaces the damaged ligament with a new ligament called a graft. In most cases, the graft is a tendon taken from your own knee or hamstring. In some cases, the graft comes from a donor.

Your doctor uses a lighted tube called an arthroscope, or scope. They put this and other surgical tools through small cuts in your knee. Your doctor may make a larger cut to take the graft from your knee or hamstring. They then replace the ACL with a graft. The cuts are called incisions. They leave scars that usually fade with time.

Most people go home on the same day of the surgery or the next day. Your knee will slowly get stronger as you recover. You may be able to go back to most of your normal activities within a few weeks. But it will be months before you have complete use of your knee. It may take as long as 6 months or longer before your knee is ready for hard physical work or certain sports.

You will need physical rehabilitation (rehab) after surgery. This will build your strength and improve the motion of your joint. At first, you will get help with the exercises. Later, you will get exercises to do on your own. The rehab will last for several months. After surgery and rehab, you should have less pain and your knee should be more stable. Your knee should not give out or buckle.

How soon you can return to sports or exercise depends on how well you follow your rehab program and how well your knee heals. Your doctor or physiotherapist will give you an idea of when you can return to these activities. Most people can jog in about 4 months and run or cycle in about 4 to 6 months. You may need to wear a knee brace when you play sports.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You will have a chance to talk to your physiotherapist. Physical rehabilitation is a big part of your recovery. Your therapist may teach you some exercises that will help prepare your knee for surgery.
  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 3 hours.
  • Your leg may be in a leg brace to limit motion.
  • You may have a device that applies cold treatment to your knee.
  • You will have crutches for 1 to 2 weeks. It may help to have a backpack or another way to carry items.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter K607 in the search box to learn more about "Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: Before Your Surgery".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.