I’m two months into recovery from total knee replacement surgery. At this writing, it is late June 2018.
While the recovery experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I would share some thoughts on it. Knee and hip replacement is something many of us Boomers will face at some point. But the advancements in medicine today are pretty remarkable.
I had a major surgery 40 years ago. Before things like MRI scans could provide accurate reads on the existing damage. Back then they hadn't even thought about replacing entire joints with new artificial parts. It was like the stone age compared to now. It’s pretty amazing that medicine can even do this today. In my case, it will eliminate pain in my right knee and allow me to do all kind of things I have not been able to do for the past 40 years -- like jog.
The pain from arthritis built over the years and had become unbearable without cortisone shots. It was time.
You can see in the illustrations that this is pretty serious stuff. Metal rods are inserted into shin and thigh bones, connected to your new artificial knee joint. Lots of areas for pain and discomfort.
Remarkably, you’re up and walking with assistance on the same day as the surgery. Of course, you’re also still heavily medicated and in my case, I had the benefit of a nerve block virtually stopping any pain signals.
That stuff wears off pretty quickly, though, and you have to deal with the pain and swelling for several weeks and beyond. I ran into problems here. I can’t handle opioid pain pills. Severe constipation. And the pills seem to make me loopy in the head but don’t really make the pain go away.
So, I stopped all pain meds about three weeks post surgery. Tried arthritis strength Tylenol. But gave that up too.
Ice. Lots and lots of ice is your best friend after this surgery. I’m still icing down after two months and probably will be for a while. They say full recovery can take a year. They also say you might want to take a full two months off work right after surgery. I can see that, for sure.
The first few weeks, you need to use a walker to get around even on short trips inside the house. I graduated to a cane after about 2 weeks, but didn’t walk very far until the 3rd and 4th weeks. I’ve got a temporary handicapped-parking permit, which helps a lot. I’m progressing faster than normal thanks to a lifelong commitment to working out. My muscles have atrophied a ton on my right leg. But there is still some strength there to build on.
This site is about working out and building muscle, so let’s get to that.
I began upper body – only - workouts, with much lighter weight and far fewer sets as the first month of recovery was winding down. At this time, I skipped my usual lower body day.
During this period, I was in Physical Therapy for my leg. For the first two weeks, a therapist came to the house and we did isometric type exercises for about 30 minutes. Then, once I was cleared to drive again, I was sent to a nearby PT clinic.
That was tough. The exercises were pretty simple: walking on a treadmill for 5 minutes, balancing on one leg for 30 reps, isometric squeezing my quad muscles together and so forth. But the stretching was painful.
I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that it includes the therapist forcing the stretch with hands on the wound.
The best part of PT was an ice-down for 15 minutes at the end. Again, ice is your best friend during recovery.
A quick checkup with my surgeon - who did a great job - was all good and he said I could stop going to PT and do it on my own at home.
We discussed my usual workout routine. I told him I have a super smooth Powertec leg sled, and a Powertec leverage gym with a nice hack squat station, plus a Hoist stack gym with knee extension and a lower pulley for glute kicks, etc. We talked about all the exercises and he cleared me to do any exercise but deep squats. He instructed me to use much lighter weights than usual across the board.
For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been doing my lower body routine with much lighter weight 5 days per week, instead of the usual one day per. I started off doing only a couple of sets per exercise and this week graduated to doing my usual 5 sets per.
Keep in mind, in my usual workouts, I’m focused on using lighter weights and higher reps. So, I’m now going even lighter. In some cases, I'm doing more reps than usual to compensate for the extra light weight.
- Leg Sled -- with 50% of the usual weight
- Knee Extensions -- with 40% of the usual weight
- Glute Kicks -- with 80% of usual weight
- Hamstring Curls -- skipping for now because the wound is still sore
I will gradually increase the weight back toward my usual amount as time goes by. Today, for example, I’m going to increase the weight on Knee Extensions because the 70 pounds I have been using X 21 reps in each set has gotten way too easy. I'll increase the weight and decrease the rep count accordingly to the right balance.
The weirdest thing so far... that nobody warned me about? My knee pops and clicks when I walk. Even kind of sounds/feels like a 'thud' to me, it's as if I can hear it and feel it. Freaked me out. Talked to the surgeon about it at checkup. He said it's normal and that it may do that forever. Apparently the high tech artificial parts will rub against one another. And since there is no soft tissue there any more, there's nothing to stop the rubbing sound. Guess I need to get used to it. But I'm hoping as I rebuild muscle around the new joint that it will diminish or go away. We'll see, time will tell.
On the darker side of the experience, I battled depression-like feelings for a few weeks. Constant aching pain, plus mind-fog, plus not being able to get the endorphin high of a good workout... it added up and was hard to deal with for a while. Things might have been better if I could tolerate the strong pain medicine, but I can't. So, a lot of sitting with the leg elevated staring at TV. Couldn't manage to do much else.
Fortunately, now I'm in a better place. At least in part due to resuming regular workouts. I feel less foggy-headed, too. My wonderful wife, who puts up with me through thick and thin, and I are heading due south to Canada this weekend. We're going to be tourists and go to Niagara Falls. Going to be tons of fun.
And yes, we're driving due south to the Ambassador bridge that connects Michigan to Canada. That part of Ontario juts down from the mainland and forms a significant chunk of land that is south of most of Michigan.
Meanwhile... It still going to be several months until I'm at full recovery. Till then...
If you haven't already, grab the 5 Keys to Feeling Stronger -- Right Away! Totally free. You'll get a video by me about the 5 Keys plus some e-booklets. It's been proven us older folks can build real muscle without punishing ourselves with heavier and heavier weights. Check it out.