A Climber’s Guide to ACL Replacement

Hey Steph,
My name is Lacy, I live in Bellingham, WA but I lived in SLC for a few years which is when I fell in love with the desert. I have never paid much attention to professional climbers, or skiiers, or runners…but I have ran into you a couple times in the creek and your kind demeanor and down to earth way of interacting with others really struck me, what with how well known and talented you are.

So I ended up checking out your blog and have really appreciated its simplicity and humbleness, while sharing your knowledge and skill with others, especially us women. I did a search on your blog recently to see if you had any advice for women dealing with injuries and discovered that you have torn your ACL and had it repaired. You didn’t say much about it though and I am wanting to pick your brain a wee bit more about it as I recently tore mine skiing and just got surgery yesterday (yes, Valentines Day). I had a bone tendon bone cadaver graft and apparently lost some of my medial meniscus as well. Today, I feel pretty horrible, like I won’t be able to bear weight on it anytime soon, so it is hard to imagine leading 11’s in the creek and running 50k anytime too soon. It is weird how easily our minds get wrapped up in what you can do NOW instead of focusing on what you will be able to do 3-6 months from now, which is what I need to focus on. It turns out this whole surgery thing is a big deal 🙂 and I woke up this morning asking myself ‘what have I done’? Just a few days ago I was still skiing with a brace, dancing at our local 80’s night and cycling…today, I have only gotten up to pee and have a brace the size of both my thighs on. It is a weird transition.

Anyhow, I am sure you have more wisdom to share regarding your experience. I am really curious about what kind of repair you did, did you lose any of your meniscus, how you felt right after and what got you through the rough patches, what inspired you and what it was like to get back out to doing the things you love at the caliber you were before. Also, any good diet tips to fight inflammation?

Sorry if this is in anyway confusing…I am still on Percocet 🙂

Hope all is well in the dez and I hope to hear from you!

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Albert Camus

Dear Lacy,
Sorry to hear you are laid up, but I’m really glad to hear you got your ACL replaced, because you are now close to being all perfect again 🙂

Here is the story of my ACL replacement:
In February of 2008 (about six months after I first started base jumping), I was hiking to the top of the Tombstone, which is the cliff closest to my house, to do a jump. It was a very snowy winter and my gear weighs about 20-25 pounds, including body armor and helmet. I had it on my back, and just near the top of the cliff, I walked straight down a snow-covered slab. My feet slipped out, and I instinctively tried to ski it out, and slid down and landed in somewhat of a crouch position on the ground below, with the extra impact of the gear on my back. I heard a “pop!” and my knee felt numb yet painful. I was by myself, and after I got up I realized there was no way I could walk all the way back down the trail. I was a few hundred yards from the edge of the cliff, so I got over there, put my gear on and jumped down, landing near my truck. When I got home, I iced and took ibuprofen, and my knee hurt really bad for a couple of months. I couldn’t even walk on it for the first few weeks, but eventually it got better–I was working on a route called Concepcion before I got hurt, and when my knee was “healed” up enough after a month or two, I was able to climb it. So I figured it was sprained and had just gotten better. I did notice that I was having a hard time doing really high steps, extending my leg all the way, and pulling in with my leg like you do on steep climbing, but I just compensated. So I tried to take care of it, wait for it to get better, and then just move on and not let it worry me too much. I generally don’t go to a doctor unless I’m lying on the ground unable to move and/or bleeding profusely, so that’s why it never occurred to me to get it checked (yes, I have learned from this!).

All of this coincided with my not running like I had always done, because my dog was getting arthritic and couldn’t run. I just wasn’t having as much fun running without her, so I basically stopped trail running (my theory now is that my leg muscles were uncharacteristically weaker for those few years, making my ACL more vulnerable without that protection of strong muscles). I was feeling bothered by that knee, but probably in denial, and I was wearing a neoprene brace when I climbed, and I also started to try to get running again, because I noticed that running made it feel better. Although I wouldn’t admit it to myself at the time, I look back now and know that I avoided being in the mountains and free soloing during that time because deep down I knew I couldn’t trust my leg in serious situations.

A year and a half later, I was doing a jump with my brother, and I had a perfectly normal, soft landing. I took one step as the canopy touched down, and my knee went “pop!” and felt all numb and weird. I was leaving for Europe for a month of base jumping, so I iced it and took ibuprofen and rested it for a week. It got better, but was almost completely unstable. I couldn’t walk in a narrow trail with one leg in front of the other, because it would buckle. I thought, “what an annoying sprain this is!” And when I got home, my brother finally suggested that maybe I should get my knee looked at, suggesting it could be something simple to repair, like meniscus damage. So I finally did, and the doctor pulled on my knee once and said, “You have no ACL.” I was pissed! I still blame my brother for tricking me into going to the doctor by making me think it was going to be some easy little orthoscopic clean-up 😉

Looking back, I think I must have had a partial, almost full, tear back in 2008 on top of the Tombstone, and completed the tear a year and a half later when I had that uneventful landing. I was not able to get surgery just then when I was diagnosed, as my dog was in her final stages of spinal arthritis and had to be carried a lot and intensively nursed. So I got one of those Donjoy braces and waited until the next fall (when she had passed away). Like you, I found it a weird reality. A few weeks beforehand I was flying a wingsuit off the Eiger, and then I was trail running in Moab the day before my surgery…hours later, I couldn’t stand on my leg! Mentally it was really hard for me to schedule being injured, and go do it to myself on purpose. However, after two years of functioning without the ACL, I really knew how great it would be when I was 100% again.

I got a double-bundle hamstring graft which is a slightly harder recovery, but supposed to be super bomber when complete. I got mine a few days before my birthday, which was spent in bed with that up-and-down motion machine 🙂 The injury I had before this was a pelvic fracture, which was extremely painful, so I was ready mentally for pain and recovery. I didn’t find the ACL surgery all that painful….what was hard for me was the fear during the recovery process, because as I’m sure you know, there are endless horror stories about people re-tearing the graft even up to 6 months after surgery. Usually when recovering from an injury, I just do as much as I can all the time. With the ACL recovery, I was totally petrified of doing something wrong and tearing the graft….especially because the two causes of injury I had seemed completely unimpressive and undramatic to me. It’s not like I was skiing a hundred foot cliff, or catching a crampon on a slope, or sliding a thousand feet into a crevasse. I was WALKING.

Although I’d been climbing, base jumping, skydiving, skiing and running without an ACL for over two years, I didn’t have any meniscus damage. I think I was really good at guarding it and protecting it without even realizing for a while–in fact, a bone density scan showed that my right hip bone was almost twice as dense as my left, indicating that I’d been putting twice as much impact on the right side of my body for all that time. This is another reason it was really good to repair it, because over time that kind of imbalance can not be good for the body. I know I never fully extended my left leg for a really long time, or weighted completely it on uneven terrain, or pulled in hard with it on a climb, because it would basically rubber-band and feel like it was turning inside out. I was able to crack climb at my limit where I was standing down on both legs, but I was not able to climb as well on steep stuff because of being unable to pull in hard with my leg. So in a lot of ways, I was able to manage without the ACL, but it was holding me back.

I was pretty happy about the opportunity to do some serious upper body training while my lower body was coming back. I went to a physical therapist a few times, but spent every day (literally) at the gym in Moab, as soon as I was up and moving better (3 weeks to a month after surgery). I would spin on a bike with no resistance, and do the simple rubber band exercises and inclined leg press machine (with no weight). Then I would do lots of lat pull downs, and all the normal upper body stuff I like to do in the weight room. As my leg got stronger, after 2 months, I started rigging up one of those aerobic step boards in the gym under the pullup bar. I put a shoulder-length sling on the pullup bar above me for assistance, to grab like a subway strap handle, and I would work on just stepping up and down on the step, and eventually trying to step onto the board and then down off the other side and backwards again, over and over. I also worked on one leg squats on the step–using assistance for the repaired leg. I would alternate that with pullups. So I was pretty happy, because I was getting REALLY strong in the upper body from all the training, and it made me motivated for when my leg would be better. I also walked a lot, on flat dirt roads–at first just 10 minutes very slowly because it hurt so much, but gradually up to 30 minutes and then an hour. I would not walk down hill AT ALL. EVER. Because of course I was petrified of tearing or stretching the graft.

I started climbing on my wall in the backyard with my Donjoy brace on about 3 1/2 months after surgery, and I was really scared. I just used the left leg very little, and didn’t do anything where I thought I would fall. At 4 months, I started running on completely flat dirt roads, because of course I was still petrified about stretching or re-tearing the graft. But my surgeon told me that if I did not go downhill AT ALL, and did only in-line motion (running), I would be okay. Running seemed (and still does seem) like the best thing I could do for my leg, and I still believe that my hiatus from running (combined with lots of impact from taking up skydiving and base jumping, landing the parachutes) was the cause of my tear. During all this time, my left leg muscles were much much smaller than the right leg.

Five months after surgery, I decided to start climbing outside. I climbed at Shelf Road the first time, and then at Indian Creek. I was more worried about the descents than the climbing, and wore my brace and used ski poles for months on the hikes and made everyone else carry the heavy stuff, even though I was comfortable leading. I also decided to start skydiving, with a really big canopy, and to only jump if there was good wind to make the landings soft. Landing was really scary for me. Six months after surgery, I started base jumping in Moab, and it may have been too soon, because I was terrified landing. And the fact is, that a year and 4 months later, I’m still having mental struggles with landing a parachute, because I have a bit of a mind f#$% due to that final incident where I had a nearly perfect landing, but completed the tear of my ACL. Somehow it’s worse than if I had torn it in a gnarly, dramatic accident, because deep down inside I have this subconscious idea that my ACL must be made of glass or something…. If I have any doubts about the speed of my landing, I tend to slide it in, lifting my left knee up off the ground, instead of trying to run out the landing. I still have the instinct to protect it. This really annoys me, because I think I should trust my leg by now. However, you just have to keep on keeping on, and little by little the fear gets better.

11 months after my surgery, I stopped wearing my Donjoy brace for jumping, and I also stopped doing a lot of my leg strengthening exercises. I noticed that my left leg didn’t feel as strong as my right, and it felt kind of vulnerable too. I went to Europe to base jump, and I noticed that the more I hiked uphill, the better my leg felt. When I got home, I started doing leg exercises again and running, and at almost exactly a year out from my surgery, I had a really bad landing in mud after a base jump. My leg bent all the way (though inline) and went POP! I couldn’t walk for a couple of days, and was in a complete panic that I’d torn the graft. After two weeks, I went back to see my surgeon, certain it was torn or stretched, because it was a much harder impact then my two original incidents and my leg was still hurting. As it turned out, the ACL was fine. I’d hurt the muscles all around my knee, but not the ACL–it’s not made of glass after all! 😉 And the leg strengthening exercises do work to protect the ligaments. My muscles hurt, but they did what they were supposed to this time.

After that scare, I decided to keep wearing the brace for low base jumps (which tend to have the hardest landings), and to be really aggressive with leg exercises in the gym. Now when I’m doing my pull up workouts in the gym, I alternate my sets with inclined leg presses, hamstring curls, and that strange donkey-kick machine. I also started a habit of doing lunge steps across the gym from one place to the next, rather than walking, and that is great. Now it’s been a year and 4 months since my surgery, and my repaired leg feels as good as the other one. In reality, the graft is probably stronger than my other one. The hardest thing for me is the residual mental fear of tearing it, but that is fading over time.

Climbing and running seem like the best things you can do for leg strengthening and flexibility, and they were the first things I was able to start doing in my recovery process. Yours should be faster too, since you have the cadaver graft. For inflammation, I just used that ice machine they give you all day and all night. I am an obsessive icer, so I would go to sleep with it on, wake up and refill it, and ice most of the day. That’s probably excessive. But it’s good to always feel like you are doing everything for recovery. I didn’t have any place to swim during my recovery, but I would have loved to walk around the shallow side of the pool and gradually start lap swimming, because I did that when I fractured my pelvis and it was great.

I went into the recovery period expecting it to take forever, and that I would get so many things done during all this forever stretching out before me. So I was actually shocked at how quick 4 months came around, and then I was suddenly getting back to all my activities–I don’t know where all the time went. I guess most of it went in the gym, since I was there for three hours a day 🙂 Once I started doing things with a repaired knee, I realized just how bad it had been before when my ACL was missing. I finally realized how much I had been favoring and protecting my left leg, for over two years. It’s amazing to feel comfortable again bopping around on uneven terrain, and to really trust my leg in rough environments, because I really didn’t for a while. Climbing steep limestone now, I realize that I couldn’t even use my left leg for pulling in during that whole time period, so I was almost climbing with one leg before I got my knee fixed. So it was definitely worth it, and as usual, it reminds me of how incredibly fortunate we are to live in a world where surgeons can give us new ligaments. If I’d been born in a different place and time, I would have had to adjust myself to that unstable knee for the rest of my life.

Be patient, and be psyched that you are going to have a perfect new leg much sooner than you think.
🙂 Steph

  • Jim

    Steph & Lacy Thanks for sharing your ACL surgery stories. I just got mine done 10 days ago. Mine is slightly different than either of yours – I did patellar knee tendon donor from the other (good) leg which was put in as my new ACL in the recipient leg. Under Doc’s orders, I hobbled without crutches starting 12 hours after surgery, but only to bathroom & kitchen. I did continuous passive motion machine and ice all day and all night for 7 days. I did the PT directed extension & flexion excercises every hour, 24 hours around the clock for the first day. Waking up every 45 minutes to do painful stretching builds alpine climbing toughness (at least, that is my theory!). On Days 2-7 I woke up once-twice per night to exercise my knee, while icing nearly all day & night. It is now day 11, and I am doing the next phase of strength and balance excercises – these, combined with biking 3 times per day for 15 minutes each (no resistance) take about 3-4 hours of every day, plus more time just icing. I barely have a limp & my range of motion is slowly growing nad MOST important I have full extension. Full extension/hyperextension is EVERYTHING for getting a normal gait back my PT & Doc say. I walked 25 minutes today on flat road – my legs feel wierd and kinda weak but it was not painful or problematic. Take it slow, follow medical advice, and stay in for the long haul. I am told the BEST factor for a full recovery is a motivated athlete. More details to be posted soon at my blog (not trying to hijack thread Steph, just sharing info). Peace & strong legs! Jim Davidson

  • Jim

    Steph & Lacy Thanks for sharing your ACL surgery stories. I just got mine done 10 days ago. Mine is slightly different than either of yours – I did patellar knee tendon donor from the other (good) leg which was put in as my new ACL in the recipient leg. Under Doc’s orders, I hobbled without crutches starting 12 hours after surgery, but only to bathroom & kitchen. I did continuous passive motion machine and ice all day and all night for 7 days. I did the PT directed extension & flexion excercises every hour, 24 hours around the clock for the first day. Waking up every 45 minutes to do painful stretching builds alpine climbing toughness (at least, that is my theory!). On Days 2-7 I woke up once-twice per night to exercise my knee, while icing nearly all day & night. It is now day 11, and I am doing the next phase of strength and balance excercises – these, combined with biking 3 times per day for 15 minutes each (no resistance) take about 3-4 hours of every day, plus more time just icing. I barely have a limp & my range of motion is slowly growing nad MOST important I have full extension. Full extension/hyperextension is EVERYTHING for getting a normal gait back my PT & Doc say. I walked 25 minutes today on flat road – my legs feel wierd and kinda weak but it was not painful or problematic. Take it slow, follow medical advice, and stay in for the long haul. I am told the BEST factor for a full recovery is a motivated athlete. More details to be posted soon at my blog (not trying to hijack thread Steph, just sharing info). Peace & strong legs! Jim Davidson

  • Anonymous

    Good luck on the recovery Jim!!
    🙂 Steph

  • Anonymous

    Good luck on the recovery Jim!!
    🙂 Steph

  • Johnny Adolphson

    Thanks Steph and Lacy for sharing your experience. I’m a skier/climber 7 days out from a cadaver/hamstring graph combo acl replacement surgury. Steph- great to hear about the mental aspects of acceptance and recovery you have gone through. I admire the aspects of your life you share through your posts about flying and climbing. It gives me strenth to hear of your struggle and recovery from acl surgury.
    Lacy- Hang in there! The first 2-3 days were the worst and scariest for me. I found comfort and hope in actively engaging in every aspect of rehab and recovery since. I try to get outside, even if I’m just sitting in the sun as much as possible.
    Life is still beautiful and good!
    Johnny Adolphson

  • Lacy Rain

    Thank you so much Steph! Reading your response honestly made me feel so much better because I know the caliber at which you live your life and so it is good to know that you too went through a transition of fear and wondering if you would be able to get back to that. I guess it is easy to imagine that since you are a professional athlete, you for some reason are immune to those thoughts/anxieties/anger. I like that you touched on being pissed off, because honestly, right now I am just sort of pissed. Doesn’t help that it just started dumping snow again at Baker 🙂 And thanks Jim and Johnny for your encouragement as well. I am actually waiting to hear back from the surgeon today b/c I am super confused that I am not able to bear wt AT ALL for two weeks. I didn’t anticipate that, but it is what the ppw said. So we shall see. Thanks again Steph, you are truly inspiring!

  • Anonymous

    it does remind me of what this vibrant Spanish friend of mine always says: “Life is long!”
    It’s so true….

  • Lew

    Thank you for sharing your story, both of you. I think I know which slab you’re talking about on Tombstone, I’ve jumped that many times. I shared the story with my running partner, Athena (my yellow lab 🙂 ) who is out with an ACL injury herself. She’s heartbroken that she can’t run with me right now, but we’re going to get her doggie ACL surgery too. It is amazing what can be done to allow us to return to our awesome quality of life and play. I’m grateful every day that I can run and jump…
    as the song goes:
    ” Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own..”

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  • Ariellefurtado

    WOW! Jim, I am three weeks out and you are way more on it than I am! I am taking this to my PT and telling him he needs to push me more. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Arielle, don’t worry, and remember that recovery is different depending on what type of graft you got. I had a double bundle graft, and my surgeon told me to use crutches for 2 weeks. I also heard from people who were off crutches in a day or two, but it depends very much on what type of graft you got. Also, remember the whole recovery process is pretty long, so don’t feel worried that what you are doing or not doing in the first month or even two months will make or break your ultimate recovery….as long as you don’t stretch or tear the graft!

  • Thanks Steph!

  • Erin

    I’m glad this got posted! I tore my ACL peeling off a bouldering problem and was in total denial, telling myself it was a sprain for months 😛 . I’m 2.5 months post op now and its nice to see your timeline of recovery! I have a bit of that same fear of re-snapping my ACL but my physical therapist makes me do exercises I would swear I’m not ready for, so I guess it is pretty strong after all!

    I can’t wait to be back 100%, but I’m so glad to be rid of the rubber band feeling

  • Anonymous

    it really is so worth it, and basically a miracle 🙂

  • Emily Sagalyn

    Wow! This is great. It’s so amazing to hear everyone’s stories about their ACL repair. I am also fresh off the OR table, 10 days, and still hobbling on crutches not able to put much weight on it at all. Steph it is so great to hear your story! I also had a double bundle hamstring (don’t know how many surgeons are out there doing that). To hear about your recovery give me much needed hope that this will get better and I’ll be able to ski/climb/run again sometime in the not so distant future. Sitting on the couch is so frustrating! Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    🙂 I had mine done by Dr. Aoki at the University Orthopedic Center in Salt Lake–he is an amazing surgeon. I’m so glad I had it fixed!! You will be as good as new, so enjoy the downtime while it lasts….

  • thanks for posting up steph

    i had the ACL done in sept … and just started top roping and easy leading last month again

    still going to wait for the summer before leading the harder (for me) stuff and alpine

  • Anonymous


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  • Inese

    I had ACL surgery 10 years ago with a cadaver graft just like you, Lacy. In  nutshell for 3-4 years I felt something, not pain but why do I notice I have a left knee, but not that I have a right knee? Year 5 I forgot my neoprene brace on a ski trip, freaked a bit, but was ok. By year 6 or 7 I couldn’t even feel the staple they left in anymore. I just hiked 135 km in 7 days, and noticed absolutely nothing from my ACL knee (I’m 52 now).

    1)I did a lot of Iyengar yoga pre surgery, and immediately after surgery I went to my classes still on crutches and did all the poses laying on the floor and using the wall as the floor. Unless if you do yoga I cannot emphasize how much it helps for balance in all sports. I have done graceful, slow motion, one legged yogic sitdown “falls” while skiing, much to everyone’s amusement, but no injuries!

    2) I ALWAYS hike with poles now, especially on steep downhills. I can’t count how many times a pole has kept me from re-injuring myself, and the confidence plus having less weight pounding on both my knees helps. Remember I’m 52, was 42 at surgery and plan to be hiking with a pack way into my 70’s.

  • I had ACL replacement with a cadaver donor as well. That was back in Dec. 2009. They had to clean up my meniscus and also drilled several micro fractures to stimulate cartalidge growth because I had lost so much over time. Well anyways, I had a really rough time with recovering that I was still suffering earlier (2011) this year. Wearing my brace and never feeling like I could walk with a proper stride because of the pain, I could feel that other parts of my leg was suffering.  I worked very hard to get back my strength and not allowing the pain to stop me from getting out and hike. I came across a diet late february where it cut out grains and sugars, within a few days… I swear this was an amazing, dramatic difference, but I was almost painfree again!! I can not believe the change. I was beginning to think this was just the way it was always gonna be for me, because the doctor said I was just gonna have to live with it. (can you believe that?!) Anyways, cutting those from my diet was very hard, but if I can feel as amazing as I do today, I will never go back to eating grains and sugars again!! It has been just a few months and my leg feels better than it has in a very long time. I still have that mental block as well where I am fearful I will reinjure it and am extra careful with it. Also find going downhill a bit less stable, but I am still working on stregthening it. Good luck to you and to all the others that have had to endure this difficult surgery.

  • Anonymous

    that’s great news, I hope it keeps working 🙂

  • Brittany Myers

    Dear Steph and Lacy, 

    It’s been a year since you wrote this post, and I am so
    happy I found it. There is not a lot out there about climbers going through ACL
    surgery, so it’s so comforting to hear both of your stories. I am 4 weeks and 4
    days post my ACL surgery with a patella bone tendon bone graph, and it’s been
    one very difficult month. I’m a long distance runner and climber and when I tore
    my ACL, MCL and meniscus skiing in a bad fall in February, it was one week
    before I was supposed to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo in Ecuador. Lying in the
    snow, in a great deal of pain, all I could think about was Ecuador and my
    months of planning and training…  I have
    felt that the most difficult part that no one can prepare you for, is the psychological
    challenge, especially for very active people who are used to living their lives
    running, cycling, climbing etc. I live in NYC, so the second hardest part has
    been the difficultly of my every day routine and the unbelievable expenses that
    I’ve incurred (I.e. I had to take cabs everywhere for the first few weeks).The
    best thing I have been able to do for myself is to remember a simple philosophy
    that, as it turns out, is much easier said, than practiced: I think as people
    who seek out the challenges of living this kind of lifestyle, we have to be
    able to endure the set-backs as gracefully as we endure and embrace the struggle
    and sometimes suffering of the activities we choose – of climbing up a 50
    degree slope at altitude or running a 50 mile race or whatever it may be – we have
    to put that struggle in the same boat as this one. I think it’s that kind of grace
    that makes us much stronger and more well-rounded athletes, and I think you have
    been such a great example of this Steph. It is after all, a physical and human
    challenge, just like all the others.

  • I’m glad things are getting better. Just be really careful with it. It’s all up from here … 🙂

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  • Steph

    I tore my ACL when I fell from a bouldering route a couple months ago. I had surgery about 5 weeks ago, and just started climbing again today (one-legged and two-armed, that is). What a beautiful feeling!

  • It makes you appreciate it !

  • Virtual_Rach

    Thanks for this post. I tore my ACL a year ago going up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. I had my meniscus repaired in April and then they went in on Monday and did a ACL reconstruction from my hamstring. The first few days after the surgery it didn’t seem too painful so I cut down on the painkillers (due to annoying side effects! 😉 ), and then the pain started, so I’m back on them.

    I am bearing weight a little but supported by crutches. Even walked on them about a mile yesterday but I’m not sure that was the wisest thing as I was in quite a bit of pain that evening! 🙁

    Anyway, it is frustrating, but it’s nice seeing this optimistic post. And I liked Brittany Myer’s comment that we should put the focus we normally put into our activities into getting better, as I guess these injuries are a potential price for doing the stuff we love!

  • Hi Rach, you will definitely get better. It’s been over 3 years since I got my ACL replaced, and I can’t even tell. My leg feels strong and reliable, and I’m not worried about my knee at all. It’s not as fast as one would prefer, but it’s very good you got it fixed and in the long run you will not even remember.

  • Christina

    hi! thank you so so much for sharing! i’m three weeks post surgery (hamy) and already wondering how i’m going to live 5 months without climbing. hearing that someone of your abilities had the self control to hold off, is a great reminder to be patient 🙂 thanks!

  • Pathou

    Thanks for sharing your stories! Nice to hear it is possible to do moderate rock climbing with a ruptured ACL. I ruptured mine 4 weeks ago and I can now walk properly but I can’t run yet. I was thinking to go back to moderate rock climbing in order to keep my muscle strong until the surgery day …I believe now it’s ok to go back to sport but I need to be careful 🙂

  • Maimuna Syed

    Seriously Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was afraid Id be unsure of my leg forever while climbing. Your story gave me hope 😀

  • heal fast 🙂

  • shubho

    thank you for writing in such detail. Myself 9 weeks from aCL cadaver graft and 8 months from injury. Your rehab timelines will be helpful.

  • Katie

    Thanks for the details on your recovery program, and the account of the challenges you went through! That is super helpful info and I’m grateful to hear the graft is strong, glad it worked out for you, and I have more hope for my future knee.
    I tore my ACL mid january, and am walking close to normally after 6 weeks. I won’t have a surgery date for a while, is crack climbing, say at Indian Creek, a better option than other types of climbing while I’m waiting?

  • After my tear “healed” initially, I was fine climbing on vertical terrain. For me, the problem was steep climbing where you have to pull in with the leg.

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  • Art

    I go in for my ACL reco with a hamstring graft tomorrow and am so relieved to hear of your recovery process! The road to true recovery starts tomorrow.

  • Good luck with your recovery Art 🙂

  • good luck! 🙂

  • Catherine Felix

    Thank you for sharing! I recently had the misfortune of having to under a pretty intense surgical procedure. I had to undergo some reconstructive surgery in order to correct a severe trauma. The whole process leading up to the surgery was traumatic for obvious reasons. I don’t want to go into too much detail but during my surgery, my team used a FAW blanket and it helped so much with my post surgical recovery. I credit my super quick recovery to the blanket. Here are some facts about the system http://www.truthaboutbairhugger.com

  • thank you Catherine 🙂

  • Drew Herder

    The more seditary lifestyle is a shocking change. I’m doing a hamstring graft in 2 weeks for the acl, psyched to get this thing strong in the following months to get back climbing. Awesome to read your story Steph!

  • Mark Walker Adamson

    After six months nursing my knee so I could spend sixteen days leading a group of river rats down the Grand Canyon I finally had my acl reconstructed with hamstring graft four weeks ago. First week was awful. Living on a wee island off the west coast of Scotland means isolation is acute when ur not mobile. Unfortunately my surgeon has been very aloof and physio has been basic. Four weeks on and my leg is extended to 0 and flexed to 115. Have 3-4 sessions a day on leg extensions and flexions with four twenty minute sessions on the recumbent bike ( which I bought for rehab thank god as it’s awsome and makes u feel like u r doing something ). Started 3 five minute wobble board sessions this past week. What I have noticed is every so often the knee feels a bit loose. Not that’s it’s bucking but it is almost buckling. Paranoia kicks in every time and I panic about acl being overstretched.. did this happen to you during recovery phase. ??Am really taking things easy ( stopping when tired , not putting any pressure on it etc ). I know it’s impossible to say but hoping this is something That is not too abnormal. Great article. Trawling the internet looking for answers and motivation can be wearing but great when u don’t feel alone and others are going through the same thing successfully 😊

  • Jake Allen

    Hey Steph,
    Thanks so much for touching on this subject! Curious to know when you stop wearing your Donjoy Brace when you climbed? and how long before you were jamming your feet in cracks? I am just about 6 months (Hamstring graft from my other leg) I/m toproping only in the gym and wearing my brace for every lap. Any feeedback would be great, Thanks you!

  • Truc Allen

    Thanks for writing this Steph – I just had a patellar autograft for my right ACL this morning and needed the inspiration!
    Like you too, I think I might be housing a partial ACL tear in my left knee from a vicious heel-toe-cam last year…

    Looking forward to seeing you next time you’re in the nw!

  • Melodie Meigs

    I’ve got a comprehensive ACL surgery guide aimed for climbers at http://www.patchworkandpebbles.com/acl/. It covers everything from pre-surgery graft choice, to logistics post-surgery like showering, to the graft healing process (necrosis, ligamentization, etc.), and rehab for back-to-sport climbing. Please take a look–I hope it helps!

    I tore my ACL twice and am 15mo out of my 2nd surgery. I was TR-ing at 5-6mo, lead climbing at 7mo (overhang, no slab/ledges, first 1-2 bolts clipped), crack climbing on TR at 9mo, and am still to get back to bouldering. I’ve been a huge advocate for ACL surgery information for climbers since there’s so little info out there, and I personally felt that if I had had more info, I wouldn’t have torn mine twice.

    I’ve also got a survey at https://goo.gl/o23rf9, capturing data about which graft people chose and after what time periods they went back to TR, sport, lead, bouldering. It would be great if those of you who went through surgery share your data (it’s like 10 multi-choice questions)! I’ll publish results on the ACL guide.

  • Kaitlyn Schelbert

    So happy to hear this story I’m 16 years old and just had ACL surgery and can’t wait to get back to sports and rock climbing. Oddly enough I tore mine throwing in a soccer ball turns out I just planted my foot wrong. Anyways this makes me feel a whole lot better about the recovery process, I’ve been super down lately since I can’t do anything but this gives me hope!

  • The ACL stabilizes the knee and connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ACL tear may get injured due to sudden twisting. An ACL injury may also be accompanied with meniscus tear. A popping sound at the time of injury with swelling, pain and instability in the knee generally indicates an ACL injury. ACL injuries need surgical reconstruction since they do not heal on their own. Using the latest cutting edge techniques Surgeon performs ACL Tear surgery & Acl reconstruction surgery using allograft and autograft methods.


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