[This is the last part of my series on ACL reconstruction surgery. Start here for the full index.]
Congrats! You've made it to the nearly-full recovery!
- Month 9: Started lead climbing
- Month 12: Started bouldering with <5ft falls
- Month 18: Planned back to bouldering
I wore the smaller brace only when I felt I needed it, like when climbing and hiking / climbing approaches / rock scrambling.
Physical Therapy & Back to Sport Therapy
I stopped formal PT appointments after month 6, but continued strength training on my own. I even took a 30lb kettlebell on a 3 month road trip to keep up my strength, working out in campgrounds!
I really want to stress the importance of PT. There's very little formal information about rock climbing as a sport in terms of training, injuries, and recovery, unlike sports like soccer and football. You really need a much stronger, healthier posterier than most of us would like to think.
At month 12, I went back to PT for back-to-sport training for falling. I emailed my surgeon, said I was a year out, wanted to get back to my sport safely, and asked for a back-to-sport PT prescription. The back-to-sport therapy is so important, I think it should be standard for any ACL patient.
The muscle activation for falling is very different from running or climbing or lifting or squatting. My PT first asked me to hop on one leg and then hop on the other. He could see slight movement in my operated knee--bad news! And I could do 3 pistol squats in succession on both legs.
PT for back-to-sport focused on plyometrics. I've never felt like puking more. I did single-leg jumps onto and off of multiple heights of plyo boxes. I did single-leg jumps over speed hurdles positioned every which direction. I did single leg squats on a balance board while juggling medicine balls and talking (to mimic falling/activating muscles when you don't expect it, or when your concentration is elsewhere). I was incessantly sore but really, really strong.
I started climbing 1x/week in month 5. I didn't trust my leg or feel normal climbing until month 7. I started lead climbing, always clipping the first bolt, even in the gym, at month 7.
I took a 3-month road trip to climb at month 9. I top-roped for much of the first month, only leading when the falls were truly clean. I always had the first, and sometimes the second, bolt clipped. I walked away from 75% of leads because they had a slab headwall that I could hit if I didn't make the next clip, or there was poor bolting that may lead to a fall into a ledge. I wasn't taking chances. But the other 25% of leads I did, and I made sure they were excellent 4-5 stars, and I had a blast. At month 11, after climbing outdoors for 2 months, I even went crack climbing.
Currently, I don't plan on taking any big falls until at least 18 months. I'm butt-traverse bouldering, where my feet don't go more than 5ft off the ground.
Back to Sport
If I haven't hammered it enough throughout this series, I'll say it again: take your time getting back to sport. Don't let your own ego about feeling healthy or pressure from others get to you.
You can have the strongest muscles in the world, but your graft will essentially go through necrosis, losing 70% of its strength, before slowly becoming a ligament.
Out of 2 surgeries and over 200 PT appointments, I've gained 5lb of muscle in my posterior, I've ridded myself of nagging pains, I've never been more stable or strong, I'm much more self-aware, and I feel more stable climbing. There's no doubt I'm set up to be healthier for another 50+ years of being active.