Old Knees Made New

Posted on September 13, 2011. Filed under: Joints | Tags: , , , , , , |

Recovery from knee surgery

As I looked down at what a nurse called my “very nice scar” my morbid sense of humor couldn’t help but think of the “$5 foot long” sub commercial. Foot long was close, but mine cost a whole lot more than $5, that’s for sure!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 6 months since that whopper of an operation to restore the pitted and worn cartilage pot-holes under my knee cap, and a year since the my cartilage was first harvested for growth in the lab and the later implantation.

The recap is this: many years ago as a product of the “no pain, no gain” school of exercise and a subsequent exercise-aholism the cartilage behind both knee caps developed pits, cracks and holes. Knee pain proper started perhaps 15 years ago, and a combination of finally learning good exercise technique with acupuncture and herbs gave me these extra 15 years of high-level, intense fitness training.

Even so, eventually every sin of youth must be paid, so when a little over a year ago when I could no longer get up off the floor after wrestling with my son because of the ground glass feeling in the joints, I knew it was time to get something else done.

I searched out multiple orthopedic opinions as to what to do. Two had not solutions other than injecting synthetic lubricating fluid in the joints and cleaning up the cartilage – basically to act as a tide-over until things deteriorated so badly in the rest of the knee to force a knee replacement. Another doctor suggested using a cadaver tendon to pad the holes. The doctor I chose had an entirely “next level” set of skills and was down to earth besides; he also has 4 children – so we understand each other!

The short story on the procedure is this: first, it’s actually a package of operations rolled into one long, involved stay in the operating room. “Welcome to Big Boy orthopedics” is how my surgeon described it.

In a preliminary procedure – for me one year ago – the defects in the knee are trimmed, polished, nipped and tucked – and cartilage is harvested for the future implantation.

The Big Boy operation is full blown, open knee surgery with general anesthesia and a several day hospital stay. The pits in the cartilage are prepped, patches stitched over the holes, and new cartilage cells grown from the harvested cells are injected by the million.

Meanwhile, they cut off a part of the upper shin bone where the knee cap tendon attaches, move it forward a few millimeters and screw it back in place. Other alignment procedures take place as well.

You awaken the next morning with itchy skin and an achy leg, though you don’t seem to care very much due to the morphine IV. You also find your leg is lying in a gadget that moves it up and down, and you very soon learn that good, old ice controls pain better than anything.

While I should have taken a month off work, I have a clinic to run and I know how re-energize faster, so I was back at the clinic one week later doing acupuncture from my wheelchair. Everyday I would do rehab at the level possible, take Chinese herbs, and do acupuncture to reduce swelling, gain energy or promote healing.

What followed were several weeks on crutches, then a rediscovery of the joy of walking without assistance or aids, which was a true, real Freedom.

As the weeks turned into months my healing progressed.

Much to the amazement of my surgeon and others who knew the extent and complexity of the surgery my pain was at worst “nuisance” level – again I attribute this to the acu, herbs and some strong mental visualizations.

My time out of the gym was only 6 days – I used the wheelchair to get to the machines to work upper body and the un-operated leg.

At this stage – 6 months later, the leg is getting much stronger and regaining some lost size due to the early weeks of disuse. Stairs feel much better, as do getting up from a chair and out of the car. It’s a fantastic thing to get a life back…..

Better rehab and recovery after surgery is nothing new or shocking for people familiar with Oriental medicine. People with back surgery, disc procedures, rotator cuff tears, and even abdominal surgery have gotten “unstuck” their healing in a very short time as the Oriental medicine works to improve and “unstick’ the body’s own healing energy.

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