Oct 30, 2020

Virgil Van Dijk’s Injury: How long does it take for an ACL injury to heal?

What an ACL injury means for the Liverpool defender

As every Liverpool supporter knows, on October 17th, star player Virgil Van Dijk was challenged by Everton’s goalkeeper and sustained a serious knee injury.

Jordan Pickford dived in with a two-footed challenge at Van Dijk – forcing the Liverpool defender’s knee to twist inwards.

Virgil has ruptured his ACL, according to a Liverpool spokesperson – citing a complete tear of his knee ligament. Last week, there was another report that the injuries ‘extend beyond the ACL’. He will undergo surgery within a few days.

How long does it take for an ACL injury to heal?

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Simon Moyes and the Capital Orthopaedics team have decades of experience in getting professional sportspeople – including footballers – back into play as soon as possible.

We know that their careers, and their clubs, depend on treatment that is not only fast, but focused on preventing re-injury.

With the correct treatment and rehabilitation, elite footballers can be back to full fitness within 7-9 months.

In rare cases, you see pros return to playing football in 6 months. But this will probably increase the chances of re-injury or compensatory injuries – as the structures of the knee and muscle strength are unlikely to have fully recovered by that time.

Those are the best-case scenarios, of course. Any experienced orthopaedic surgeon or physiotherapist will tell you that recovery times are dependent on the complexity of the injury.

What exactly happened to Van Dijk’s knee?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thick band of connective tissue that runs down the middle of your knee joint. It connects the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). Any major side impact or violent twisting action can cause the ACL to stretch and tear.

Other related injuries are very common in these type of ACL tears. Van Dijk could also have suffered from:

Torn meniscus – the rubbery pad of cartilage that provides shock absorption between the bones of your joint can be ripped if your knee is forcefully twisted.

Torn PCL, LCL or MCL – the three other ligaments which stabilise your knee. They can be also ruptured under intense strain.

Bone fracture – the knee cap (patella) or other bones in the knee joint can be broken in an impact or at the point where the ligaments have been pulled out of place.

ACL surgery

Like anyone, Van Dijk has had to wait until the swelling went down in his knee, before surgery could take place. 

ACL surgery is almost always carried out arthroscopically – using a tiny camera inserted into the joint, and small surgical instruments to carry out the repair.

This minimally invasive technique reduces the impact on other structures of the knee – so there’s virtually no collateral damage. Which means your body can heal more quickly.

A completely torn ACL like Virgil’s needs to be reconstructed. The damaged ligament is replaced with a tendon from another part of your body, or from a donor. This graft tendon is fixed in place using surgical buttons or screws.

Other soft tissue injuries can also be repaired using keyhole surgery – a torn meniscus can be repaired or removed; other ligaments can be repaired, and broken bone fixed in place to ensure correct alignment as it heals.

ACL injury recovery

It’s all about dedication!

Professional footballers like Virgil will have strict exercise protocols that are fine-tuned to building strength and mobility.

He may also be given different types of therapy to stimulate healing – these may include PRP injections, shockwave therapy, massage and acupuncture.

At Capital Orthopaedics, our highly experienced physiotherapists and sports medicine specialists provide rehabilitation plans and healing therapies to help you to return to strength and fitness as quickly as any trained athlete.

What gives professional footballers the advantage is that they have trainers, coaches and therapists on-hand to ensure they stick to their protocols – every hour of every day, if necessary…

So – if you’ve had an ACL injury, and want to recover like a Premier League footballer, take your rehab seriously. Follow the guidance and plans provided by our physiotherapists to the ‘T’, and you should be able to return to sport as quickly as Virgil Van Dijk!


If you have any knee pain or you suspect an ACL tear, contact Simon Moyes and the Capital Orthopaedics team here.

Based in three central London locations, we offer the very best in sophisticated diagnostics, advanced surgical techniques, dedicated physiotherapy studios and pioneering healing therapies.


Your ACL questions answered

What are the symptoms of a torn ACL?

  • Sudden pain at time of injury
  • Snapping or popping sound
  • Swelling around your knee
  • Feeling that your knee is unstable or about to give way
  • Pain in your knee during or after exercise

 Can a torn ACL heal on its own?

A torn ACL cannot heal on its own. It’s important to seek medical advice if you have any of the above symptoms after an injury that involves sudden twisting or an impact to your knee. An ACL tear is diagnosed using MRI or ultrasound scans. Treatment for ACL is dependent on the severity of the tear and your lifestyle goals.

Does an ACL injury require surgery?

An ACL injury doesn’t always require surgery. If you don’t participate in sports with a high stress on your knees, you can have physiotherapy to rebuild muscle strength, restore range of motion and improve proprioception (reducing the feeling of instability).

Can you fully recover from a torn ACL?

Yes. ACL repairs and reconstructions have a high success rate, particularly if you follow physical therapy protocols and don’t return to sport too quickly.

How long does it take to walk after ACL injury?

We encourage our patients to start walking the next day after ACL surgery.

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