If I were to boil down what I learned this past week about the knee replacement experience, it would be the importance of exercise, both before and after the surgery.
This past summer, a good friend, who happens to be a physical therapist, was adamant that I start some kind of physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around my knee, even before I’d scheduled the surgery. I took her advice, and ended up not only benefitting from the therapy, but learning a lot about what was happening to my body as a result of my deteriorating cartilage.
I learned that there were some mechanical things going on that caused the pain and fatigue in addition to the bone rubbing on bone. And yes, as gross as bone on bone sounds, that really wasn’t the major source of my knee pain. Turns out, its the weakening of the muscles and tendons in the joint as it compensates for that quarter inch of cartilage loss. My leg is starting to bow outward, and due to that, affecting the way my hip socket processes movement, thus, and let me get this technical term right – it has thrown my spine all out of whack.
The exercises my therapist showed me, and the treatments she performed did relive the pain, but were absolutely counterintuitive to what I had been doing, which was continuing to try to get my 10,000 steps a day in, in spite of my crazy limping, wobbling, hitching gait. I was actually doing more harm than good. My joint was twisting, and because it felt better when it was bent, I hesitated to straighten my leg, thus my hamstring and its accompanying posse of tendons were atrophying.
The therapy consisted of manually hyper extending my knee, trying to loosen up the back of my leg, then following up with some resistance band work and alternating leg lifts. I always felt better after doing the prescribed exercises, but I have to admit, I’ve been terrible at consistency.
On Monday of this week, Downtown Dad and I attended a 90-minute preparatory class for people having knee or hip replacement surgery. While there, we received a 60 page booklet designed to help us understand and move easily through the entire process of preparation, hospitalization, and recovery. I would highly recommend taking a class like this if it is offered. First, because it helps to normalize an event that for me at least is pretty scary. Secondly, it’s kind of like taking childbirth classes – your partner gets to understand all of the ins and outs (haha) of what is going to happen, so it makes them a better caregiver. Also two of the most encouraging things I heard there were one, after the surgery, the twisting and bowing will be corrected, and two, it is the goal of the physical therapists to rid me of that hitch in my get-a-long!
The booklet they gave us covers everything from preparing your home for your recovery, to what to expect during your hospital stay, to detailed explanations of the difference between knee replacement, and hip replacement. And on that point, based on length of hospital stay and recovery time, let me say that if there’s a hierarchy of replacement surgeries, knee is head and shoulders above hip. Figuratively of course… the only way that could be taken literally would be if you were in a yoga pose…
Anyway, as if to confirm what the Universe had been telling me about the virtues of exercise, the booklet’s first chapter said it, loud and clear. In chapter one, we learn all about the exercises to do BEFORE surgery. In addition to the huge benefits of pain relief, and strengthening your muscles, these simple movements help with circulation, and help you move more easily.
With only three weeks to go, it’s pretty clear that I wont lose the weight I had hoped to since my ability to do any kind of physical activity gets worse and worse every day. What I can do though, is to give those muscles and tendons a little love, making sure I stretch and strengthen them like I’m supposed to
twice a day, every day, regularly.