A six month journey recovering from total knee replacement

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I thought it would help me, and maybe help others going through this, or contemplating going through knee replacement surgery, to see what the six month journey after knee replacement surgery looks like. For me, it’s to remind me–as much as anything–how far I’ve come, but also to think about what’s next as I gear up for surgery on my right knee.

In the draft of this blog post I was referring to my new knee as 26 weeks old, but I have decided that new knees are like babies. At a certain point, you stop the weeks talk and move to to months

If you’re reading this and thinking about knee replacement surgery, pls know that your mileage may vary. I’ve gotten to know a group of people who’ve had this surgery and our recoveries all looked different. I had the advantage of going into surgery in pretty good shape. I did the Friends for Life bike rally, riding Toronto to Montreal, the week before knee surgery. The downside of the state I was in prior to knee surgery is that my right knee also needs replacing and it’s slowing down my progress.

These days I’m not needing the cane as much for walking. I keep leaving it places which is a pretty good clue that I don’t depend on it the way I did. I’m riding my bike on the trainer on Zwift. Today was an hour and 26 km.

Sam and Zwift

Here are some milestones along the way:

My surgery was supposed to be day surgery but my blood pressure had other ideas.

Day two I came home with a walker, lots of at home physio instructions, and all the drugs. Really there were enough drugs–not just pain meds– that it required another adult to keep track of all of them.

Day Four I switched to crutches, went to my first physio session in person. It’s lucky I like Estee, my physiotherapist. I’m still there twice a week, now in the evenings.

Day Five I made it upstairs to sleep in my own bed, rather than the fold out sofa on our main floor, and managed to have a shower! I felt human again.

A week after surgery, Sarah returned to working some of the time from her office, and I was getting around reasonably well on crutches. Still, the first two weeks really were a blur of pain meds, physio, icing, elevation and napping. I couldn’t really read or watch complicated television. Thankfully there was SheHulk!

I was only able to sleep a few hours at a stretch and kept the ice machine on my knee pretty much constantly.

Week Two, I got my staples out and had a follow up appointment with the surgeon. Still no driving (because pain meds) so Sarah had to take me. I was able to start taking tiny walks down the street each day and could manage basic household tasks such as unloading the dishwasher, sorting laundry, and making lunch. I got back on the bike (with a stepladder, lol) and started to work on range of motion. I couldn’t do a complete rotation of the pedals yet. I also managed to attend a friend’s wedding. I was likely the only guest there with her own ice supply. We didn’t stick around for dinner and dancing but it felt so good to be out in the world.

Sam on the trainer bike

Week Three I started small outings and we even made it to the farm in Prince Edward County. Still no hot tub for me but it was nice to have change of scenery for physio. I was no longer taking the serious pain medication except occasionally at night. I went to a Tafelmusik concert and saw a movie.

Week Four Finally, I could manage a complete pedal stroke on the bike, backwards but not forwards, but still it was progress. Throughout all this I’m doing physio exercises four times a day and still there’s lots of icing, and elevation, napping and TV. I moved on to binging Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, shows I never watched back in the day. I also started to drive again.

Week Five I discovered that I could pedal forwards on a recumbent bike at the gym, even if I couldn’t manage forwards on my trainer bike just yet.

Week Six I started aquafit and I returned to work. I had the option of staying off for 12 weeks but there’s only so much TV a person can watch. I started using the cane instead of crutches–leaving the all-important coffee-carrying hand free!

Week Seven I discovered that if I raised the seat on the trainer bike I could pedal forwards and I started riding a few minutes each day. For the first few times I didn’t even turn Zwift on. I just watched TV and tried not to tink about how far or how fast I was going.

Two months, I flew to the Dominican Republic for a short vacation in the sun. I did an underwater spin class! When we got back I started personal training again and started to focus on strength and balance as well as range of motion.

Three months, I started to see a massage therapist as well as a physiotherapist to help with range of motion and getting rid of the last of the swelling. Check out my fancy physio tape!

Fancy physio tape

Four months, annoyingly my right knee started to bug me as I did all the physio for the left knee that’s recovering from surgery. I was fitted for a right knee brace so hopefully the right knee won’t slow down my recovery from surgery too much.

Knee brace

Five months, I rode an actual bike again, outside, in Arizona and went on some desert hikes. Read about it here. Our longest ride was 25 km and I struggled a bit with the mechanics of riding–clipping and unclipping, and getting on and off the bike, but it felt so good to be riding again.

Sam on her road bike in Arizona

Six months, I’m back at hot yoga (yin) and lifting weights, as well as riding my bike on the trainer, going for dog walks, and doing physio and personal training two days a week each. I’m doing group rides in Zwift–The Thundering Turtles and Seattle Baby Steps and Ride On For Health –as well as rides with the slowest of the virtual pace partners. The thing I’m working on now is cadence.

At six months it isn’t over. It’s still an all on thing recovering from knee surgery. There is still a lot of physio. There’s still some knee pain (though frankly the right knee is worse than the left). Some days I hop up and forget about my knee altogether and other days it’s a struggle getting around. That’s the weirdest thing, how much it varies from day to day. I know movement helps and the days where I ride my bike and lift weights are the best. I think this would be very hard and extra challenging if you weren’t already an active person for whom physical activity is a large part of your day.

Today I’m seeing the surgeon about my right knee. Wish me luck!

Any questions? Send them my way!

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