Monday, November 25, 2013

Knee Rehab at 7 Months: Don't Stop Now!

Last night, while I was being a couch potato on my new recliner (recliner potato?), watching my third football game of the day, I noticed a few twinges of pain in my bionic knee -- that is, the knee that my orthopedic surgeon totally replaced last April. "Oh, no," I thought. "I've been enjoying a pain-free new knee." I hated the thought of going back to see the doc, and, worst-case scenario, having to go back to the hospital for surgical repair.

Ah, but when I got off my big butt and moved around some, it started feeling better. Then this morning, I walked the extra mile with Superdawg in bracingly not excruciatingly cold conditions, And the knee loosened up and felt great, so much so that I went to the workout room this afternoon and pedaled a half-hour on the stationary bicycle. Still feels fine. It's strong; that's good.

What a revelation: The knee needs regular working out to stay supple and in good working order. Shouldn't I have learned that by now? I followed the physical therapy religiously, to the point that I even got compliments not just from the PTs but my drill sergeant of an orthopedist. Lately, 7 months post-op, the exercises have gotten boring and it's been all too easy just to walk Superdawg and call it a day for planned exertion. I captained the Heart Walk, I captained the Alzheimer's Walk -- why should I have to keep doing those silly exercises?

Keep at it daily -- that's what I have to do. Chastened by my lapse, I reopened my trusty "Knee Owner's Manual" (Drs. Brugioni and Falkel), about which I written earlier here. And again the pages yielded valuable guidance. Most notably, the manual has a whole chapter on "Six Months to One Year," a time frame I've barely entered. It is no time to quit knee-specific exercises now if I want to keep the TKA un-ossified and fully functional.

The Manual offered some reassuring answers, too. Why the slight pain? Well, besides BionicBob's becoming a recliner potato, it is perfectly normal for the new knee joint to hurt a bit from time to time. One cause can be changes in weather bringing on stiffness, tightness, or pain in the knee joint. The weather forecasters say we have a dilly of a pre-Thanksgiving storm headed this way, so maybe my trusty bionic knee was acting as a barometer.

Another thing I've wondered for a while is why I still feel a little numbness. Sure enough, the manual has an explanation. Unavoidably, some sensory nerves (almost microscopic ones) near the skin are cut during the surgery. The result is some numbness around the area of the incision. While it usually resolves with time, it can last for one or two years. And some patients may always feel a little numbness; however, the sensation will not diminish the function of the TKA. That's good to know!

My main takeaway is that this is no time for me to become a slug.  After my daily walk, I can do the old exercises and work in some new ones. And I should definitely invite the original-issue knee to the party as well. As of now, the doc says it should be good for the duration. I just as soon not have to have another total knee replacement. Of course, at some point down the road, the replacement might wear out and need replacement. Excess weight can place greater stress on it and hasten that day. So that should be extra motivation to stay active and avoid becoming a recliner pig as well as a recliner potato.

                                                      © Robert G. Holland   2013

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