Why does my knee crack after my ACL surgery?
First and foremost, you are not alone! Hearing a crack or pop in the knee after your surgery is a very common experience among those who have gone through an ACL reconstruction. There are a few reasons this may be happening that are completely normal. Following surgery, there is typically some scar tissue that develops within the joint and surrounding structures. When you first start moving the knee around, this scar tissue will start to break up causing an audible crack or pop – this is okay!
Oftentimes after surgery, the affected structures will experience swelling. This is a normal part of the healing process. When there is swelling in the knee joint, this can cause the knee cap to track differently along the thigh bone when bending and straightening the knee. When the knee cap gets off its normal track, this can cause an audible crack or pop. Again, this is not something to be overly concerned about as once the swelling is resolved, this motion should return to normal. In addition to ice and elevation, safe and gentle range of motion at the knee can help to decrease post operative swelling. An example of a simple range of motion exercise to increase knee flexion is heel slides along the floor while sitting with legs stretched out in front of you. Other examples include low intensity stretching for the hamstrings and calf muscles. All range of motion and stretching should follow the prescribed guidelines of immediate post operative care set by the surgeon in order to protect the healing ACL graft. Specific instructions on these exercises are linked below!
Similar to joint swelling, a weak quadriceps muscle can cause the knee cap to track differently and may result in a crack or pop. Following an ACL reconstruction, it is normal to experience quadriceps weakness. Regaining quadriceps strength is something your physical therapist will begin working on with you early in your rehab. Much like swelling, once quadriceps strength returns the knee cap will track normally again. A safe quadriceps strengthening exercise to do following surgery is isometric quadriceps setting. This exercise will help to wake up the quadriceps muscle that has likely lost some strength since surgery. Again, all exercises should follow the guidelines set by the surgeon in order to protect the healing ACL graft. Specific instructions on these exercises are linked below!
While hearing a crack or pop is completely normal following surgery, make sure to tell your physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon at your next appointment. For more information about the goals of early post operative care, you can explore the Prep Performance Center specialized online ACL rehab program here!
Range of Motion and Stretching Exercises:
Quadriceps Strengthening Exercise:
On the other hand, contact your physical therapist or book an appointment today if you feel any of these symptoms.
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