How Long Does It Take an NFL Player to Recover From an ACL Tear?

Injuries are common among NFL players, but serious ones can bench players for months or even be career-ending. A torn ACL is particularly bad. And Odell Beckham Jr. knows just how much an ACL tear can affect an NFL career. 

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the Los Angeles Rams reacts after an injury during Super Bowl LVI
Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is injured in Super Bowl LVI | Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Odell Beckham Jr. has been self-rehabbing his knee

During Super Bowl LVI, Beckham injured his left knee and tore his ACL. This was the same knee he injured in 2020 in a game with the Browns. The wide receiver missed the rest of the 2020 season plus the first two games of the 2021 season. He took a full 11 months to recover. 

After the second injury, Beckham chose to recover on his own instead of signing with a team to rehab in their facility, reports Sports Illustrated. While recovering, Beckham made unofficial visits to several teams. He is targeting a mid-November return to the field. 

The free agent voiced an interest in returning to the Rams so he could play near his offseason home. However, negotiations could get complicated because he most likely will miss the start of the next season. 

Recovery from an ACL tear typically takes between nine and 12 months

The Mayo Clinic reports that “an ACL injury is a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — one of the strong bands of tissue that helps connect your thigh bone (femur) to your shinbone (tibia).” Of course, sports are a major cause of ACL injuries, especially those involving quick changes in direction or sudden stops.

It is common to hear a pop or feel a popping sensation when the injury occurs. You may feel unstable, see your knee swell, and realize your knee cannot bear any weight. 

The severity of the ACL injury will determine the treatment plan. Some injuries may require rest and rehabilitation exercises to regain strength and stability. More severe injuries will require surgery to replace or reconstruct the torn ligament, followed by rehabilitation. Good conditioning can help reduce the chance of an ACL injury. 

Recovery from an ACL injury for football players is around nine months. It can take up to 12 months before an athlete can return to full activity and play ball, according to 4WWL. The good thing: NFL players are already well-conditioned and strong before an injury, which helps speed up recovery. The hard part is that they are also trying to return to a high level of athleticism

In Beckham’s case, Dr. Rami Hashish told Sportscasting it would be best for the receiver to sit out the entirety of the 2022 season:

“That is probably the best approach. If you want a long-term look at your health, then it’s not worth a month to put yourself in that type of danger. You’d rather play five years very healthy than a portion of one season and be a little bit limited the next couple of years. It’s not worth it.” 

Some NFL players can’t return from ACL injuries

It used to be that a torn ACL meant an early retirement for NFL players, according to Dr. Bill Sterett. Now, this injury does not have to be career-ending. Consider these five football players who have torn their ACLs and returned to the field. 

  • Tom Brady
  • J.J. Watts
  • Rob Gronkowski
  • Teddy Bridgewater
  • Adrian Peterson

While a torn ACL does not have to be a career-ender it can affect your game. According to PubMed, one particular study “indicated that NFL players are severely affected by an ACL injury, with only 28.5% still active in the league 3 years after the injury.”

This research indicates that three positions perform the worst after an ACL tear: running backs, defensive linemen, and linebackers. “Quarterbacks were most likely to return and had superior postinjury performance compared with the other positions.” 

RELATED: Why Have ACL Tears Become More Common in Pro Sports?