Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Total Knee Replacement - Preparing for Your Surgery

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Total Knee Replacement

I want to take a break from simply listing what has happened to me and talk a little more about what I did do and what I could have/should have done before my knee replacement surgery. Having a knee replaced is a significant procedure. It requires frequent therapy and exercise sessions after the operation to regain both strength and mobility. It is possible to shorten the recovery time afterwards. One of the simplest things you can do is to exercise in advance of the surgery to build strength in the joint muscles.

Deteriorating knees move the patient into a destructive cycle that makes recovery more difficult. Increased pain leads to a reduction in activity. Reduced activity means a gradual weakening of the joints associated muscles. And weak muscles mean recovery afterward is prolonged and made more difficult.

Talk to your doctor about pain management before the operation. With reduced levels of pain, higher levels of exercise are tolerated by the individual. They can embark on a muscle strengthening program before the surgery, ensuring they are in optimum condition for recovery afterwards.

Fortunately for me, I was in little pain or discomfort before my operation, which meant I could use my home exercise equipment at a relatively high level of intensity. Lynn and I had decided last winter to outfit a home gym, since our work schedules, and our inclinations made going to an outside establishment difficult. We picked up a very good quality elliptical device and an all-in-one weight machine. The elliptical is a very good quality, basic model. We elected to spend more for a basic machine and are happy we did. It feels very sturdy, and is whisper quiet. The weight machine is leverage based. You add plates to the bars and have to rearrange things for the different exercises, but it is not a huge deal. And, most importantly, it allows you to do squats, dead lifts and all of the major pressing exercises safely.

The weight machine is built by Powertec, and the elliptical is by Eurosport. They both make it easy to exercise, but they aren’t essential. Body weight exercises can do the job quite well. I’ll talk about some I use.

Exercising for flexibility, while useful, is not as critical as exercising for strength. Simple exercises using your own body weight are sufficient to make a difference in post-surgery recovery. Two simple exercises that the individual can do at home are described here.

1. Leg Extensions - Sitting on a straight back chair, place one hand on your thigh muscle and simply extend your leg in front of you, pointing your foot back towards yourself as much as possible. You should feel your thigh muscle tighten up. Try and get your leg straight and level at full extension. Do ten repetitions, holding your leg extended for a count of 6 for each rep. If you can do this easily, try extending the length of time it takes you to lift your leg. That is, lift the leg very slowly, taking 5 seconds or so to get it fully extended. Then hold it for a count of 6. Then take a full 5 seconds to lower it to a relaxed position. If this is still easy, try putting on a heavy shoe or boot while you do the exercise, making the leg work harder. You can repeat this exercise twice a day in the months leading up to your operation.

2. Step Ups - Standing at the bottom of a set of stairs, or a step, facing the handrail or wall, and place your foot up on the next higher step. Do you understand. You are actually standing sideways on the stairs. Using your hands to balance yourself on a handrail or door frame, slowly step up by shifting your weight to the higher leg and extending it. The key here is to do this exercise slowly, until you have fully extended your leg. Then slowly bend at the knee and allow yourself to lower back down to your starting position. No additional weight is necessary for this exercise. If you find it easy to do, do it slower. If you find it hard to do, use the back of a chair or an extended cane to help boost yourself. Maintain an upright posture, avoid stooping or bending sideways and take it easy the first week or so you do this. Perform 10 repetitions twice a day.

3. Assisted squats - Find a sturdy door, not a closet door, but something more along the lines of an exterior door. With the door partially open place one hand on each door knob. Now simply squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. You don't want your knee caps extended past your toes. In fact, if you are leaning back a little, supported from falling by the door knobs, you will be able to keep the angle made by your thigh and lower leg close to ninety degrees, which is as low as you want to go. Once you get to ninety, stand back up. Now, the last thing you need to do is fall. So the door knobs (or whatever else you may choose to hang onto) must be strong enough to support you. I used a steel column in my basement. It held me just fine.

The key with any exercise program is to start slow and build gradually. Do not fight through high levels of pain. Pain is a message. Find the best time of the day to do the exercises. For many people this will be morning. Consider placing a cool pack or bag of frozen peas or beans wrapped in a towel on your joint after exercise. As with any exercise program, discuss this with your doctor. Follow your doctors recommendations and best of luck.

Here's a couple of links to websites that talk about post surgery exercises. You should get well familiar with these exercises before you go into hospital.

University of Virginia

American Academy of Orthoepedic Surgeons


Anonymous said...

I am 2 weeks post surgery and am concerned with not being able to fully extend my knee. It stops abruptly, did this happen to you?

Could you respond to

Paul Stevens said...

I did not have any trouble extending my knee, bending it beyond 90 degrees was the problem and is the most difficult thing for most, because of the swelling.

At times I have felt in danger of hyper-extending it, going past completely striaght. I don't think it is a real danger to me, but I don't think I have quite the same stability I had before.

If you cannot fully extend, I would contact your doctor for x-rays. It may be nothing but you don't want to put yourself through the worry. Recovery is enough of a chore.