6. An Alternative to Knee Replacements

Legs, Walking, Walk, Limbs, Motion

My husband and I recently strolled the Rome film studios of Cinecittà. As film buffs we found the tour fun. I also found it sobering. Walking is a privilege I, of course, took for granted most of my life. Even my joint replacements offered good years of exercise though I should have slowed down some in order to give my joints more ‘shelf-life’. Now, I am thankful for days that are pain free.

Please consider a few lessons learned about knee replacements for ridding yourself of pain: orthopedics is an industry as well as a medical field of study and one currently tied to implant manufacturers first, regenerative medicine, or stem cell therapy, second or third. Knee replacement should only be a decision made when all else fails. In the States, replacements are being offered at far too young an age when in fact, they only last between 10-15 years before your bone or their metals begin to crumble. Mine lasted 14 good years. The revised surgery I succumbed to four months ago, with a non active lifestyle, will give me another ten years I am told. The options after that? Revised replacement of my revised total knee by perhaps age 72, joint fusion, and/or a wheelchair.

If I could do it all over again, and now with stem cell therapy as a viable option, I would invest in stem cell therapy and as soon as a joint problem becomes chronic. My older brother took this route a few years ago with his left knee and within three months of a week’s worth of medical care, returned to biking, skiing, and windsurfing.  By investing in adult stem cell therapy, he also invested in more time to rely on his own body’s natural resources during his later years when invasive surgery is unarguably more traumatic. In comparison, I have used up my body’s options by relying on metal joint replacements and see a future surrounded by equipment, and limited exercise options currently including swimming and weight lifting.

Consider saving for stem cell treatment for inevitable joint pain. Look up the newest research by visiting www.regenexx.com, the Mayo Clinic, or the Galeazzi Institute in Milan where I completed my revised knee replacement and began once again with hands-on lessons in the relationship between body, science, and health.

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5. Chronic Pain

Natural pain

The doctors said that healing from a revision knee replacement surgery would take at least 6 months to a year.  I nodded in agreement before I had the surgery.  Now, I hang my head in frustration, almost despair.

These feelings are not because of the days, weeks, and now months spent hoping to awake to feel nothing.

They are not in the quiet glances or overt stares at me by people on sidewalks, restaurants or public transit here in Bangkok.

It is not in my audacity to demand a seat on the metro or in my carefully slow pace forced on others so that I do not trip, fall or twist on the uneven pavement or as I go down stairs.

And it is not in finding myself sensitive to the irony of  infinitives that now require careful renegotiation:  To Walk, To Move, To Meet, To Hike, To Run, To Shop, To Sightsee, To Sleep.

It is in the pain. Chronic pain.  Four full months after surgery, the physical and acute squeezing of a negative life force through the tendons, up the muscles and between the fascia is the ‘it’ that brings me and my daily life to a halt. Gripping the cane or the crutch ferociously, I strive to find a chair, a bench, or, caught  on the road, the fastest way to get home so I can put the bloody leg up to rest, hoping a phone doesn’t ring or the bathroom does not need me so that I can have some uninterrupted time to rest.

More to the point, I rush home so I can stop.  Stop moving, stop straining, stop feeling the pain.

After months of this kind of pain, I review my life and dismally realize that I feel like I have stopped contributing, stopped being in the stream of lives around me. Stopped exploring, stopped chatting.  Stopped seeking the company of others – stopped being meaningful.

Not too long ago I used to find shelter in my aloneness.  It did not feel lonely, it felt essential to my healing. Now, this pattern of aloneness does not seem to abate:  I feel the confines of my apartment as much as I feel the doubts of success this surgery promised to provide.  For many more than six months since the metal joint first slipped,  I have been wrestling with pain, with mobility – negotiating with it every moment of the days, and sometimes the nights.  It always wins.  My life is in the hands of the worst part of my physical self.  Bodily pain: mobility captured, caged, controlled, limited.  My reaction, left unguarded, allowed to be undisciplined, becomes the worst my mind can generate: depression, despair, loneliness, irrelevance, nothingness as I sit within my walls.

Of those who ask about our lives since we moved to Bangkok,  I try to keep the answer honest but upbeat with alternative news that from time to rare time is a form of truth.  The pool is a sanctuary, a haven; the food, incredible; the sites, unbelievable.  Some might call this flick of truth diplomacy.  In truth I simply crafted  a story lived by the someone else I had hoped to be by now.  Yes, my life has overall been rich, full, lucky. But, my reality is underwritten by an unfortunate outcome of the surgery.  How long inquiring people remain in my life depends on their capacity to believe that I am more than the pain that stifles my life.  And success in my life requires moving beyond the pain and crafting a revised lifestyle that does not allow pain to be its centerpiece.  That feat, however remains a daily, sometimes mountainous task.

Some days are better than others.

Today, I am staying home for a “Knee-First” day (see Blog 3) to rest completely, having cancelled my plans to visit a Thai language school. What ‘staying home’ means is that I am to do nothing, absolutely nothing that requires walking except to complete a few exercises. The pool sits above me, on the 8th floor, waiting.  I drool over it but keep myself locked in this apartment to give this leg, once again, the time it needs to stop aching, to stop speaking in the various dialects of pain: pain when standing, pain when walking, pain when leaning too far forward or too long in a sitting position.  While my Thai language is very limited, I have become quite fluent in the language of pain.

I can assure you that this knee will heal enough to give me the pleasure of a few minutes of painless walking, and just as quickly, the illusion that I have passed into the phase of full repair, now able to thrive, plan, ‘do’. This is when I am at my best.  I make plans. I see the possibilities in front of me with the excitement of a starved person in a grocery store.  But then the tendons freeze, the muscles ache into shooting pain and rise to meet my new metal knee seemingly with a malignant laugh.

Pain like this teaches you to let go of plans, and start over. It teaches you, despite it all,  to never give up on the day that will come when the pain is marginal at least or non-existent, at best.

And so the wrestling match continues. Today, I must live in the pain and allow it to master me. Tomorrow, I will live with the pain and get on with life joining how many others in this world who struggle with the same: pain and less pain.

4. FEAR

Stairs and LightDaily fear.  Given options, I typically prefer a  “Be Calm, Soldier On” attitude when repairing from a physical trauma, especially if the entire process is relatively brief.  But, to return to full mobility, a revised joint recipient needs to maintain a physical discipline of bending, strengthening and lengthening stubborn body parts up to and beyond a year to experience decent results.  But physical therapy is not all that is required, by a long shot.  Added to this regime is the need to calculate walking distances, arrange alternative forms of transportation, allow the house to collect dust until ready to use hard-earned mobility to clean it.  Plain and simple acquiescence to the norms of this new regime also is a critical requirement to this revised lifestyle.  I find that fear, now, is a norm and takes on more poignant, ‘ever present’ attention when managing recovery.

Perhaps prior experience lends to my stubborn hold on fear.  Working full-time after my first knee replacement, I turned a corner in a recently mopped, but no warning signed hallway, and promptly fell on all fours, fracturing my kneecap on the two-year old knee replacement. I was immobilized for four full months, bearing no weight on that leg, still raising two boys and managing a townhouse, while taking work disability to try to make up for my lost salary.  I returned to work in a knee brace that required an additional two months of wear and then proceeded with 6 months of physical therapy.  Al tol, I added another year of recovery to my recovery process.  Thankfully, I did repair.  But I have no illusions about the change of lifestyle a break forces on adults, their families and their professional lives.

We know that fear serves the important purpose of sensing danger and threats to ones’ existence.  Joint revisions naturally incorporate fear to sense real threats found in everyday life: fast moving crowds, uneven pavement and steps, intrepid traffic, disrespected pedestrian walk-through zones (‘zebra-stripes’) and slippery walkways all contribute to daily worries, daily fears.  Slipping in the shower, banging the knee into a coffee-table, getting up from a chair too quickly can all result in acute moments of pain and possible damage to the joint. These daily fears, week after week, now three months running wear on me. Never have I wanted to incorporate more mind shifting substances (marijuana, medicinal and otherwise, sleep enhancers, alcohol, mediation, relaxation music, massage, etc…) into my daily life as I have now, following joint revision surgery.

Threaded through these management methods lies a cemented acceptance that whatever happens, has to be accepted.  Seeking to absolutely control present day dangers and their accompanying speculation, forecasting, and anticipated consequences is an illusion.  Fear creates the concern and alertness, as well as produces the strategies, the diligently designed ‘protection plans’ needed to potentially alleviate each situation.  But these plans cannot ensure avoidance of all possible accidents. They help us move forward though.  And, put into practice, these plans become behavioral patterns now common in ones’ life.  When I got on the back of the motorcycle the other day (Blog 3) and easily placed the crutch between my shoulder and my chest, and rested its base on my foot, that was a quick, almost mindless act culminating from weeks of practice. I looked comical, but I felt secure – as much as one can on fast-moving motorcycles weaving their way through moving traffic at rush hour… We can only try to minimize threats to ourselves with strategic planning and ‘safety-first’ decision-making, put into practice often enough to create confident, adjusted, behavioral patterns – ideally supported by calm-inducing moments in the day, as we live our revised lives.

Today, my husband and I will use the metro system to meet a real estate agent in a southern section of Bangkok.  I will put on my light-weight cross-shoulder bag, and walk an additional 400 meters from the metro to get to the door of the apartment complex.  This will be the first visit of 5 we will make today in the same neighborhood.  While I have point-blank reminded the agent three times that I have limited mobility she continues to assume that I can walk as far as she can, youngster that she is.  Lack of empathy, determination to succeed in her profession, stubbornness or dull headedness motivates her as much as fear of pain and of damaging my joint again motivates me.  We will take a metro and Tuk Tuks or small electric rickshaws as often as we can. I will let my husband see the apartments while I sit in a coffee shop waiting for his reviews and his photos.

So, again, fear and strategic thinking must go hand in hand, never trumping the other. Otherwise, ‘housebound’ will be my lifestyle far too soon in my mind and in my life.

EXERCISES today

Saving myself for the adventure later today, I limit my morning routine to straight-legged lifts and knee bends.  When we return, and depending on my pain threshold, I will try to go up to the pool for the rest of my routine as listed in Blog 2.

Onward readers!  How is your day going?

3. A ‘Knee First’ Day

cropped-tuscany-sunrise1.jpgAdmittedly, my little adventure last night on the metro expanded to include looking at an apartment we are thinking of renting. Getting to it required two more sets of metro stairs, standing on the metro and climbing back down two flights of stairs plus walking an additional kilometer al tol.  This enlarged adventure came to a grinding halt when I started to walk from our last metro stop home. The tibia plateau on the lower leg began to shoot with pain and the thought that I was ruining my knee quickly got the better of me.  We took a Tuk Tuk, or a small motorized rickshaw the rest of the way home, and thankfully.  This morning, I paid the price by not being able to stand on my leg for any amount of time.  I cancelled a well-planned morning out looking at several apartments and settled on the couch for a day of serious rest. This means mindfully making decisions for the betterment of my knee, and not for my mind, others, and  “… house, home or hearth”.  Putting the knee first takes a certain kind of healthy selfishness and honesty, moving only if the knee allows me to or only if my bladder requires me to.  The illusion of ease putting the knee first is harder than I once thought, especially when feeling responsible for other matters in my life.  Given the trauma of working through a knee replacement and then a revised knee replacement finally settled in my mind that ‘knee first’ thinking is not only OK, but essential if the future is to be as orthopedically-free as one can be with joint replacements.

Exercises today

  • Anything that keeps me off my feet. Today that included organizing my photos online; answering some emails, (trying to) sign up for a grocery delivery service, watching some Netflix (online) and closing my eyes for awhile.
  • Practicing letting go of images and thoughts that leave me feeling older than I am, alone and permanently immobile.
  • Thanking those elements and people in my life that help me to feel hopeful and capable. Today, I am particularly appreciative of the working internet, my caring husband and my ever listening friend Jean. A big shout out goes to the real estate agent who readily and graciously agreed to postpone viewing the list of apartments she had arranged for us to visit today. I have something to look forward to and, given her lack of concern about the listings, allows me to feel patient for my own recovery from this hiccup.  We will soon get out there and on with settling in this city, thanks to her patience, that can also now be mine.

2. Revised Knee, revised life, unless moving house

                            Moving Chair                                       

Lesson relearned:  Establishing strength and stamina requires discipline – and a long, uninterrupted period of time, daily.

After ten days in the hospital, I lost a great deal of exercise time because we needed to complete a major move from Rome, Italy to Bangkok Thailand. Between July 12 when I had revision knee surgery and  September 24 when we flew out of Italy, we had to do what moving people have to do: sell many of our household items, arrange for movers, pay off utilities, demolished our car, thin out our supplies, scrub down the apartment and say goodbye to choice friends.  Thanks to a three-week visit from my sister, I was able to incorporate some physical therapy between these essential moving demands and was allowed a bit more rest in between activities.  And, thanks to a rolling office chair, I  was able to roll around the house doing what I needed to do when my knee was too tired or painful from bearing my weight walking or standing.  Even with the pushing and pulling required by the rolling chair, and my three-day a week PT sessions followed by some thera-band work at home, I did not know just how much I had regressed.

When I arrived in Bangkok, the first appointment I made was with an orthopedic specialist in revision surgery.  He made quite clear that I needed to resume physical therapy as if I had just completed surgery – I had regressed that much due to moving distractions. Thanks to his sound PT direction, I am now feeling stronger and more confident.

Here is what I now strive for daily, finally after 11 weeks and 4 days since my surgery.

Exercise routine for Strengthening 

100 Straight legged lifts = Straighten leg, lift 30-40 degrees off firm couch, bed,or  bench, with toes lifting towards knee.  Hold for ten seconds, leg down (completely!), repeat. Pull heel towards wall in front of you to help position the leg correctly.  Quads should feel tight and the knee should feel strong. Watch for hyper extension of the knee and adjust.

100 Hamstring lifts = On same firm couch, bed or bench and with firm rolled blankets or pillow or cushion under your pelvis, bend knee towards buttocks to a 25-70 degree angle.  Feel for an angle that tightens your thigh muscles and pulls from your buttocks, keep lower pelvis pressed into the cushion so that your lower back straightens rather than crushes your lower vertebrae. Hold bend for ten seconds, bring leg down (completely), repeat. Hams should feel nicely tightened after this routine.  Check for more shapely legs in a week!

 Exercises for Stretching

1)  Straight legged bend = Sitting straight backed, legs straight out in front of you, lean chest towards knees keeping back straight – feel the stretch for 10-20 seconds, release. Repeat.

2) Knee Bends =  Stand and with hand or belt,  grasp ankle and bend knee behind you, hold until the knee joint tells you to stop and or/ the front quad stretch has been exhausted.  Repeat 2 more times, several times a day.

3) Various Yoga twists that massage the spine and that stretches the Iliotibial Band

Exercises in a Pool

1) All stretches named above, using the ladder into the pool to hold the ankle or to flatten both feet to reach for a Hamstring/Iliotibial stretch.

2) Bicycle motion for endless periods of time (usually between 10-20 minutes).

3) Straight legged crawl kick with or without a floating device (5-10 minutes). If you are a swimmer, enjoy swimming the crawl but mind the need for straight legs while doing it.

4) Kickboard drops = With kickboard, hold board down with revised knee leg, let board rise, push down, lift and push down repeatedly (i.e.3 sets of 20 per).

5)  Walk backwards in water levels that you are comfortable with. The lower the level the more weight your knee bears (5 minutes) .

6)  Walk forwards (5 minutes).

7) V to l – shaped sitting kick =sitting in deeper end of pool, press lower abdomen muscles towards spine using arms to hold you up, separate legs from hips to either side of your torso, turning feet toward each other press legs together.  Turning feet away from each other, push legs apart. Repeat (60 times).

8) Leg Pulls = In lower end of pool, bend knees and lower body so that when the legs straighten out in front of you your chest to neck remain out of the water. Bend knees, take revised leg and straighten it out in front of you with the heel down on the pool floor.  Require the leg to pull you forward until your straightened leg is now bent under you. Repeat with other leg. Right then left.  Feel the quads tighten and the ham strings work (5 minutes).

Walking:  1.5 hours today in humid Bangkok.  Home rest of the day. Still stiff legged and out of balance. Lower leg pain restrains me from walking anymore than I have today.

Golden Rule: Do not feel pain to gain strength. Feel tightening and then release. Feel for agreement by the knee to accept these exercises. No acute pain allowed, and no additional swelling encouraged. Tailor these exercises to your needs. Enjoy your icepacks afterwards if needed.

CHALLENGES:

I have about one hour’s worth of walking stamina to manage the out of doors in humid Bangkok.  Having the stamina to walk to metro stops and to grocery stores and back are currently a real challenge. Pavement is bad, sidewalks are crowded and traffic does not stop for pedestrians, even if they use the zebra-stripes….Today, I will take the metro two  stops and back, with a half hour walk in between and a meeting in the late afternoon, a few stops north.  I trust this will work….?

What do you do on a daily basis?  What are your Challenges?

1. The Journey Begins

 

Collage2

Good company on a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Hello and welcome to my blog site.  This site serves to provide companionship to those who share the (growing) minority of people required to invest themselves in a revised knee replacement.

My revision story began three years ago when I started experiencing acute and shocking moments of pain in my left knee.  One day of rest would usually calm the joint and off I would go again to swim laps, hike park paths or walk the cobblestones of Rome where I was living for ten years.  Eventually these moments of pain elongated into 2 to 3 days of complete bed rest to control swelling and pain that came from one twist, one stumble or one oddly stepped moment in my daily activities.  My circle of friends became accustomed to my carrying a cane or a pair of crutches when we met.  They also understood my situation when I would call to cancel a planned arrangement with the statement, “It went out again.”  Sitting at a café or office table with an additional chair to rest the leg was commonplace.  When I taught, the additional empty chair was for my knee, not another student.  Then on March 28, 2018, seemingly out of the blue, I took my first step from the bed and could not believe the acute shooting pain that enveloped only the knee joint.  Every step after that was excruciating.  My world became the path from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen and back again, if I had to really use the other rooms.  A week later, when I could finally get myself up and to a doctor, fitted with a knee brace, poked for blood tests to rule out infection, and x-rayed for hints of cause for the pain, I began a methodical route to the surgical ward for a revision of the knee (a full story of this phase is coming up on a new page).

I trust my recovery period will evolve into more self sufficiency and confidence.  Orthopedic specialists both here in Bangkok and in Milan and Rome, Italy tell me to expect a year before I feel truly able. I believe them. Knowing myself, I also believe that I will not waste a moment to push myself in hopes of turning twelve months into six.  And that is where my repair problem lies.  There is no pushing when it comes to joint replacements.  Different cultural approaches to physical therapy may form the issue differently, but the healing goal is the same: steady walk, capacity to meet daily needs and to be pain-free.  In so many words, hard work proves that five general rules prevail:  listen to your joint, exercise regularly but, stop when it hurts, and rest.  Befriend your ice-packs. Then go at it again tomorrow.  While I want, at age 62, for tomorrow to start today, learning to have even more patience is now required.  Let’s share that steep learning curve together.