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Riding after knee surgery? Fresh Start?

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  • Riding after knee surgery? Fresh Start?

    I just had my ACL repaired 6 weeks ago. One surgeon (who I don't totally trust) says 3 months post op for riding. My phyical therpaist, whom I trust very much, says if it was him he'd wait 6 months.

    I have already been on twice (whoops!). No posting, just some walk and a bit of sitting trot on the lungeline (and my horse is worked beforehand to make sure he's totally sane that day). I recognize this is a risk (a somewhat calculated one), but it presents itself as an opportunity to go back to square one and redevelop my seat and sitting trot.

    Has anyone else had a knee surgery, and how long post op before you were back to riding fully? I had the same surgery on the other knee years ago, and I'm pretty sure I was riding within 5 months (I hadnt been on a horse in years at that point).

    Also, after taking time off riding, have you found it easier to correct habits, since they aren't "habit" anymore? It's like I can feel EVERYTHING that I'm doing wrong.

    I'm really excited to spend the next few months on the lungeline, and hoping to do a bronze competition in June

    Any suggestions relating to improving riding and getting a good start, or words of encouragement? It's ALL I can think about!

  • #2
    I had ACL reconstruction 2 years ago. I had my surgery about 3 years after I completely tore my ACL. At first, I did quite well with just PT but about 2 years after the initial injury, I re-injured my knee and lost reliable stability. That happened in the summer and I wanted to wait til the 1st of the year for he surgery because I had a high deductible and I didn't want to pay it twice. By Thanksgiving, I needed a cane. I never want to go back to that.

    My surgeon said 6 months, my PT concurred. Life being what is was, I didn't have the chance to get on for about 9 months. I had the same feeling that you describe about being able to feel everything wrong but I think that was a bit of an illusion because I was acutely aware of balance issues. The good news is I really threw myself into the 6 months of PT I did and it changed my life. I lost a bunch of weight and am more fit at 50 than I was at 30. That, more than anything, improved my riding.

    I wouldn't rush getting back into riding. It takes about a year for the surgical sites on your femur and tibia to fully heal. The right kind of injury could literally pull the new ligament out of the bones. I had a taste of life as a cripple, I don't want to go back. Focus on your PT and it will improve your riding and overall fitness. Hamstring curls are your new best friend
    See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


    • #3
      no oops

      Follow the rehab protocol exactly. I have had two knee surgeries on my right knee and now need a knee replacement. Knees are more important than medals.
      A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.--G. K. Chesterton


      • #4
        I just had my MCL repaired, a Lateral release, and meniscus debridement 12 weeks ago. My surgery was both arthroscopic (for meniscus and the lateral release) and open (for the MCL repair). so I have 2 "eyes" and an angry 2.5 inch "mouth" on my left knee

        After my surgery I was in an ankle-to thigh Immobilizer for 4 full weeks, non-weightbearing. Then I graduated to crutches only, then no crutches at all. I only went to physical therapy 5 times (!!) because my insurance policy only allowes 5 PT visits per year, no matter if you have surgery or not.

        So I have been going to the gym and working on the bike, which is the only thing I can do, about 3 days a week. I still can't walk normally, or run at ALL, or do stairs etc. The reason is the muscle atrophied so much that if my leg is not straightened fully, I cannot bear weight on it. So on uneven ground I tend to lose my balance...and walking up/down hills sucks because in order to take a step, I have to straighten the knee completely..

        Anyways, I got back in the saddle 2 days ago, (have to mount on the right side) and was planning to walk only. Well I am kind of like a JRT, so of course I wanted to push the boundaries and see what I could do.

        Walk, posting trot, sitting trot, canter, leg yields, half passes, SI, travers, renvers, flying changes, you name it, I can do it. And id doesnt hurt at all!! I actually have noticed a big difference in my ability to do straight leg raises since I have been riding again. (keep in mind that even now I am ridind about 4 horses a day - yeah I know I am insane but if it doesn't hurt, and it helps me get strength back, why not?)

        So. Have someone help you get on, then take your time and test the waters.

        PT's and sx's don't usually understand that riding doesnt require the leg muscle strength it takes to say, climb a stir, or do a squat. Or even walk normally...
        Nothing worth having comes easily.


        • #5
          I had ACL surgery and both Dr and PT recommended 6 months before riding and that is what I stuck with; re-injury is too easy and you never know when any horse might spook or do something silly and toss you or cause an emergency dismount where you knee is not protected; and then you are looking at another surgery and more time not riding. Just wasn't worth the risk to me. Once I started riding again my seat came back pretty quickly. Also old habits came back just as quick, if you maybe start back lunge lining rides and when your leg is strong you might be able to retrain yourself an get rid of some bad habits


          • #6
            OP--how old are you? I have found this makes a huge difference in recovery time. I tore my ACL during a snowboard race in 1999 (age 19) and had it replaced about a year later because i couldn't walk without my leg bending backwards all the time. *gross* Against doctor's orders, i was off crutches after a week, walking with a limp. For some reason, i couldn't walk well but i could ride fine--i had no problem posting, standing in 2-pt, jumping, etc. Getting ON was a challenge because it was my left knee. But in my experience, doctors and PTs will err on the side of EXTREME caution because they don't want you to reinjure yourself. It also depends on your horse. Is he pretty steady? Or is he the kind of horse that will spin and dump you on your recovering leg? I know i am kind of playing devil's advocate, but everyone's recovery time is different, and 6 months off is a long time off of ANYTHING.
            Good luck! My joke to myself now is that the doctors fixed my left knee so well, i wish i would hurry up and blow out my RIGHT knee so they could fix it too!
            Click here for the Roxie blog!


            • Original Poster

              Originally posted by sirensong4 View Post
              OP--how old are you? I have found this makes a huge difference in recovery time. I tore my ACL during a snowboard race in 1999 (age 19) and had it replaced about a year later because i couldn't walk without my leg bending backwards all the time. *gross* Against doctor's orders, i was off crutches after a week, walking with a limp. For some reason, i couldn't walk well but i could ride fine--i had no problem posting, standing in 2-pt, jumping, etc. Getting ON was a challenge because it was my left knee. But in my experience, doctors and PTs will err on the side of EXTREME caution because they don't want you to reinjure yourself. It also depends on your horse. Is he pretty steady? Or is he the kind of horse that will spin and dump you on your recovering leg? I know i am kind of playing devil's advocate, but everyone's recovery time is different, and 6 months off is a long time off of ANYTHING.
              Good luck! My joke to myself now is that the doctors fixed my left knee so well, i wish i would hurry up and blow out my RIGHT knee so they could fix it too!
              I'm 22, injured the other leg when I was 15. Horse is generally quite sane, and is being lunged and ridden ahead of time to at least test the waters before I get on. I'm aware of the risks, but it's a calculated risk

              I'm just wondering how anyone else coped with time off, or what exercises they used to come back.


              • #8
                I tore my MCL last summer and was back riding (in a brace) within 2 weeks My Dr said I could ride, but absolutely not fall or it would complete the tear. Needless to say, I picked my battles with my horse very carefully....knee is fine now

                oops, forgot to add that this is the same knee that I had meniscus surgery on too, the MCL tear was 2nd injury to same knee
                Last edited by TBrescue; Mar. 13, 2008, 08:46 PM. Reason: knee surgery


                • #9
                  Ah to be young and bulletproof

                  MCL and meniscus issues are different, really different, than ACL issues.

                  Age may have something to do with how you heal. But if you had reconstruction (hamstring graft or donor ligament), both your tibia and femur have an injury that is equivalent to a fracture. If you break this repair, they can redo it but it won't have as much chance of success as the original surgery.

                  BTW, I guess you could say mine was a horse related injury though my horse is also quite sane. I was dismounting and the ground was wet so my foot slipped out from underneath me. No pain, just an awful noise and the unhappy triad (severed ACL, torn meniscus and MCL). Surgically, they did nothing with my MCL and there is little they can do for damage to the meniscus.

                  My younger brother tore his ACL at 20 mountain biking. He has had it reconstructed twice. He was very fit but casual about his rehab and tore it a third time. At 32, the doctor told him not to bother within another surgery.

                  Good luck with your PT, it will do more for you riding than you can imagine.
                  See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by nhwr View Post
                    MCL and meniscus issues are different, really different, than ACL issues.

                    Surgically, they did nothing with my MCL and there is little they can do for damage to the meniscus.
                    Didn't your knee dislocate with your torn MCL? Mine would completely dislocate weekly (I would have to grasp my kneecap with my fingers and pull it back into place) when my MCL was torn...

                    Wondering why they didn't touch your MCL - there are several reconstructive options available for it.

                    As for the meniscus, they can debride it, repair it, replace it or remove it completely...

                    for mine, they debrided the jagged edges and repaired one large torn flap. Also I had grade III chrondomalacia under my kneecap so he spend quite a while doing the chrondoplasty...

                    Do you still have problems?
                    Nothing worth having comes easily.


                    • #11
                      I had a knee reconstruction (torn ACL) and rode for much of the time between the initial injury (caused by leading a horse by its headcollar - no leadrope. He leapt and slipped over, pulling me down with him) and the surgery, which I had done six months later.

                      I had a really quiet PSG level horse - getting on and off was the hardest part. My physio had me doing lots of stretches and exercises prior to surgery.

                      Following surgery, as soon as the (lovely!) drugs had worn off, I was vigorously encouraged to get up and walk using crutches, and up and down stairs. I was instructed by my surgeon NOT to wear any form of knee brace, and to get rid of the crutches as soon as possible. I was also told to have physio every day for a week, starting the day after the surgery. This included riding an exercise bike.

                      I got back on my horse three weeks after surgery (surgeon said I should wait 6 weeks). My physio, and my surgeon, both said my recovery was excellent - especially considering I am not naturally flexible. Both thought riding was probably helpful to my knee - something that they would not have considered.

                      The only issue really, was the potential to ruin the graft, which would then be much harder to re-do. But considering I got hurt originally mere handling a horse, I though riding would be much safer! Six months on, I was told by the surgeon to avoid running, and swimming breaststroke, but that activities such as riding and skiing were fine.

                      I do get a bit stiff in my knee riding in a jumping saddle, with short stirrups, in 2-point for long periods of time (who doesn't?). With skiing, (which I am pretty bad at) I also find that if I have an "incident" such as trying to avoid a fall, or skiing in a snowplough position, rather than parallel, my knee will swell up and get tight and sore.

                      Maybe surgeons err on the side of extreme caution to prevent malpractice claims? Do they suggest not driving? Avoiding stairs? Rampaging toddlers? Icy footpaths?


                      • #12
                        My MCL tear from the original injury was only partial. It healed well enough by the time I had surgery, nothing was need. My meniscus was torn initially and then shredded when I re-injured my knee. After I re-injured it my knee kept flexing backwards and my tibial plateau would grind against my femur - talk about pain My surgeon said they could trim or completely remove my meniscus. There was no option to replace or repair it because the meniscus is cartlidge. So they just cleaned it up. Also I had a hematoma (deep bone bruise) on my tibial plateau that would not heal because I kept grinding my leg bones together. They were considering micro-fracturing it but we decided not to do that.

                        After my surgery, I run 18 miles a week on an elliptical glider, work out with weights, ride at least 4 times a week and have been completely pain free, important because I am allergic to NSAIDs.

                        PS My surgeon felt it was very important to were a brace that restricted the bend of the knee because when the knee bends the ACL is stretched and is more vulnerable to injury. Keeping your leg straight until the graft healed and strengthening the hamstring is what he and my PT said was best.
                        See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


                        • #13
                          i hurt my lcl and i didnt ride for 10 weeks
                          MIDWAY SOCCER 08' First Season!!!!!!


                          • #14
                            I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee (lateral release) and don't remember exactly how soon I went back but I did not wait the full 6 months but it may have been more than 3. While I could ride without pain for the most part when I rode, my one leg was weaker and I also tried to protect it (almost subconsciously). By riding when I was not able to use my my legs evenly, I created some significant (and annoying) evenness issues and created a seriously dominant leg in my non-surgery leg. This tooks years to undo- so just beware when you are "redoing" your position that going back before your knee is ready could cause problems beyond re-injury from going tback to soon/
                            There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.(Churchill)


                            • #15
                              Long story short I completely tore my ACL and outside meniscus. I hadn't gone to the doctors. The vet came to the barn to look at a horse and convinced me that the horse was fine but I was not. The horse had nothing to do with the injury. I had a big season planned so I went back and forth on whether or not to do the surgery. I finally did it because I was worried it would catch up with me at a worse time. I did the surgery. I was so focused on healing. I had a great time resting (which I typically don't do much of) and since I had all of this time on my hands managed to meet my future husband. ( I don't think I would have taken the time to really get to know him if I was competing three horses) I also took a large class load of college courses. I definitely went through some mild depression at first however. My physical therapist couldn't believe how quickly I healed. I was riding the bike normally and the person who had the same surgery at the same time next to me could take her leg in the full circle. I think my doctor was the best personally. I swam and did all of the exercises. I was back riding within three months. I was nervous about re injuring it at first and I didn't water ski until 6 months later. I am definitely glad I did the surgery and so far so good. That was 5 years ago. I hope your story goes as well as mine.


                              • #16
                                After ACL surgery my surgeon said I could ride an exercise bike ASAP, jog after 3 months, but not ride for 6 months.

                                To me, riding (when it is going right) seems somewhere between cycling and jogging in terms of forces on the knee. I think many non-riders assume it involves a lot of sideways force.

                                Falling off inside 6 months seemed like it would be a bad idea, but I decided to allow pain to make the decision for me.

                                I rode a little after 10 days, but it hurt. I gradually rode more over the following weeks but did not hunt or compete for about 6 weeks. I don't know exactly when I could rise to the trot again, but I had surgery August 21. My first horse trials back was in early October. I had to do all the trot work sitting at that one. I still got time penalties at my second one in late October by taking it easy and was probably still sticking to sitting the trot.

                                I think it depends a lot how fit you are going in and how much fitness you lose.

                                It has now been more than 6 months and strangely I still have no urge to go jogging. Last time I saw my orthopedic surgeon he told me I am allowed to ride in "a few weeks" and waved me off with a cheery "I'll see you again. You have horses".


                                • #17
                                  I had complete ACL reconstruction years ago and was in a cast from my ankle to my crotch for six weeks. After that non weight bearing on crutches for another six. My doctor took care of many football, basketball etc. injuries and I wasn't into that type of sports. The doctor pretty much told us to progress through therapy, riding stationary bike, jogging/walking, lots of quad work and just get back into activities. I think it was around six months before I was able to really ride, even though I snuck some bareback time.

                                  Since then, I hit my knee and tore my meniscus and had arthoscopic surgery on it. Then just recently my playful golden ran head on into me and fractured my tibia, all in the same leg. This summer I got a new unbroken horse and so far I've been able to keep up with him. Aspirin is all I use.