Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series Sandi Wicher, a Walla Walla-based master tai chi trainer, is writing for the U-B’s Health & Fitness section about her personal experience with bilateral knee replacement surgery, from diagnosis to recovery.
Three weeks after I underwent double knee replacements in October 2012, the home therapy machines were taken away. My progress was considered excellent and I had made a believer of my physical therapist about the benefits of tai chi in my recovery.
My doctor, too, was very pleased when he saw me stroll into his office for a post-surgery appointment without the use of a walker. He said I was not his usual patient and encouraged me to continue at my pace but with caution.
I asked him when I could swim; he said not till my stitches were healed. Then I asked when could I cycle; he said my knees would tell me when. He told me to continue with my exercises, elevation, ice and medications.
One day at a time. I could get back to my normal routine when I felt my knees were ready. I was ready to start outpatient physical therapy.
I researched and decided on a clinic about five miles from our home. I immediately liked Cory, the therapist I had chosen at the outpatient clinic. He had a mindset like mine and saw I was a dedicated, serious patient. He gave me exercises to challenge me physically and mentally but was very conscientious and watched to see that I did each exercise with good posture and correct technique.
The flexion and extension exercises he assisted me with were the hardest and hurt the most. The goal was to reach 120 degree bends at the knees, which I eventually did.
I used weight machines, step ups, balls, hurdles and many other props. He had me stand on rocking boards, using ski poles for balance and stretch my leg back then, while balancing, pull my knee up toward my chest. To step over the small hurdles, I had to bend my knee, heel toward my buttocks then extend my leg over the hurdle as I stepped.
I added an extra movement on my own and Cory asked me what I was doing. I told him it reminded me of what are called “Crane Walking Steps” in tai chi and qigong. He said he liked the addition and that I should keep doing it as it helped me get back to my daily practice and life of teaching tai chi.
Between therapy sessions, I was to continue to exercise at home and began walking first around the block then, when ready, add a mile walk around the lake. My legs were stiff and the walking was slow but I was learning to walk all over again.
I still rested with legs up, and ice remained a must. Sleeping was still hard and I was still on my pain meds.
Most days I took the pain meds before physical therapy so I could make it through. It hurt!
I thought surely now that it was getting into the end of November it was time to start getting off my pain meds. I still had swelling and still not sleeping on my stomach yet, but thought that because I am not a sitter I’d surely be fully back on my feet again two months after surgery. I tried to cut my pain meds down, but I still hurt. It sure takes a long time to heal, I thought.
Again I thanked my husband Gordon for his help, encouragement and support. And Cory, too, who has seen many knee replacement patients. He gave me encouragement and said I was way ahead of most people in my recovery because of my pre-surgery preparation and postoperative dedication, and told me I needed to be patient about getting off my medications.
I felt setting a goal is important and I had a big one. I had been invited to attend the master training in Tai Chi for Health programs held in Australia in early January. Any goal is a must to keep you focused and encouraged, and this one was mine.
I love to cycle and couldn’t wait to get on a stationary bike, on my way to getting back on my road bike. Yeah right ... my first five minutes hurt so bad I was watching the clock to see how soon I could get off. But that, too, got easier with time, thought not as quickly as I had thought or hoped.
The summary here is physical therapy hurts, but it was so necessary for the future of my knees. So I was grateful for my pain meds to help me through it.
I worked hard and accomplished my goals of 120 degrees flexion in both knees. Now it was going to be important to keep the progress going as I prepared for my trip to Australia just three months after bilateral knee replacement.
Next week: Have knees, will travel.
Sandi Wicher is a master trainer for the Tai Chi for Health Institute and owner of Harmony and Health teaching classes and workshops at Many Waters Wellness Center in Walla Walla. She can be reached at Sandi99362@gmail.com or 509-386-4305.