ACL Surgery: How to Prepare

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The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a primary stabilizing structure in the knee. When it is injured or torn, repair requires an extensive recovery period. While surgery is an option for management of an ACL injury, treatment begins long before your surgery date.


ACL reconstruction usually occurs in an outpatient surgery center. General anesthesia is used, but your healthcare provider will make the repairs through small incisions in the knee. You can typically go home the same day as your surgery.

If you have any problems from anesthesia, you may need to be monitored in the hospital overnight. You will also be asked to practice using crutches before your healthcare provider clears you to go home.

Doctor checks patient's knee in preparation for ACL surgery
Pornpak Khunatorn / iStock / Getty Images

What to Wear

You do not need to wear anything special on the day of your surgery. You will be asked to remove your clothing and change into a gown when you arrive at the surgery center.

Bring loose-fitting, comfortable clothing to wear home from your surgery. Bending your leg may be difficult or painful at first.

Food and Drink

Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions about when to stop eating and drinking before surgery.

Depending on the procedure time, your may be advised not to eat anything after midnight the night before surgery and to consume only clear liquids up to 2 hours before you report to the hospital on the day of surgery. Be sure you understand these restrictions clearly, because inadvertently eating or drinking at the wrong time may result in your surgery being delayed or cancelled.


Before your procedure, be sure to review all of your medications with your healthcare provider, including non-prescription drugs and supplements. You may be asked to taper or stop any medications that affect bleeding, anesthesia, or wound healing.

A few examples are:

  • All nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These include ibuprofen and aspirin and should be stopped about a week before surgery. They thin the blood and increase your risk of bleeding during surgery.
  • Prescription blood thinners: Prescription blood thinners should be stopped before surgery, but your healthcare provider will advise you on how and when to stop these medications. Some medications in this group include Plavix (clopidogrel), Lovenox (enoxaparin), Coumadin (warfarin), and Eliquis (apixaban).
  • Vitamins and supplements: Make sure you tell your practitioner about any supplements or vitamins you take. While these seem harmless, these can have negative effects on your body during surgery. Some supplements your healthcare provide may advise you to avoid include vitamin E, ginseng, glucosamine, fish oil, and ginkgo biloba.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider First

Make sure to discuss what medications you take routinely with your healthcare provider. Some medications can cause complications during or after surgery.

What to Bring

Since your ACL repair will likely be done as an outpatient surgery and you will go home the same day, you should not bring too much with your to the surgery center. A few things to remember are:

  • Your medical insurance card
  • Identification
  • Cell phone if you need to reach family
  • Someone to drive you to and from your surgery
  • Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to wear home
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Crutches, if you already have them
  • Knee brace or splint, if you already have one

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

In the weeks before your ACL repair, physical therapy is crucial. Surgery for an ACL repair doesn’t usually happen until up to six weeks after the initial injury. The biggest deciding factor in when to have surgery is the condition of the injured knee.

You will need to take care of the injury to reduce pain and swelling, and restore full range of motion. This usually requires intense physical therapy.

Your healthcare provider will also advise you to quit smoking, and avoid using alcohol or other drugs before your surgery. Tobacco use in particular is associated with slower healing after surgery.

A Word From Verywell

Surgery is just one piece of ACL repair. Recovering from an ACL injury or tear requires lengthy rehabilitation both before and after your surgery date, should you choose to have surgery.

Surgery to repair at ACL isn’t necessary in all cases, and you should make sure to talk to your healthcare provider about whether more conservative management options would work for you.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Knee arthroscopy.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Preparing for surgery.

  3. Friedberg RP. Anterior cruciate ligament injury.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.