Back in the saddle, and pain free after knee replacement

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Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a four-part series Sandi Wicher, a Walla Walla-based master tai chi trainer, has written for the U-B’s Health & Fitness section about her personal experience with bilateral knee replacement surgery, from diagnosis to recovery.

During my recuperation I was very concerned about my pain meds. I needed to get off. I was finally able to cut down to taking them only at night, and then cut them out altogether. Being able to sleep once again on my stomach made all the difference in the world to me.

As for a weight gain of 15 pounds over the last painful year, I was determined to change my eating and be more conscious of what I was consuming. I read an elimination diet book and decided some of the congestion and painful body symptoms I was having could be related to my eating. So I cut out fat, sugar, caffeine, gluten, milk and cheese, as well as wine and other alcohol. I was eating veggies, fruit, nuts and protein and feeling really good.

I had thought about hiring a personal trainer to help program my exercise, so I followed through and hired Debra Shampine of Dynamic Fitness Systems for twice-a-week sessions. She watches my knees with caution always asking for feedback.

She has set up a wonderful, ever-changing, fun program for me and is always aware of my correct posture and ability. She is encouraging and makes my workouts as difficult as I am able and like to do, with safety for my knees and body a number-one priority. I thoroughly enjoy our time together each session.

I knew this was not going to be an overnight fix, but with time and dedication I would start to see results. After six weeks or so I began to see changes in how my clothes were fitting. I also noticed my strength to put the saddle on my horse was getting better. I was seeing results from the good eating plan and exercise I was doing and began to lose weight and inches.

I also decided to schedule weekly appointments for acupuncture with Mihn Vu at the Catherine Street Clinic. The appointments are another expense I am lucky my insurance would cover, considered as recovery.

My left knee healed faster than my right knee, where I still had some numbness and swelling. Mihn inserts needles to bring the nerve feeling back and reduce the swelling and also to reduce scarring. It takes time and is not totally painless, but it is working.

Now after 10 months since surgery, I am riding my horses, pain free. I am playing golf weekly, pain free. I have lost 12 pounds, fitting into clothes that had not fit. And I am getting back my strength. I am feeling energetic and healthy.

My knees feel different because they are. They make a different clicking sound they did not make before, but I do not have the constant pain I once had with my old knees. The doctor said the sound would go away in time. (Go away or maybe I would not notice it any more, I’m not sure.)

Would I do the surgery over again?

Yes! Both knees at once, too. For me bilateral replacement was the right decision. Candidates need to consult with their surgeons and make a personal decision on whether to replace one knee at a time. It was not as easy as I had expected, and I have learned a lot over these past 10 months. I am happy being back to my everyday life activities and pain and drug free. It feels wonderful to keep up with my three grandchildren and have fun with them again.

There are some things I still can’t do or need help doing, however. Kneeling is awkward and feels funny. I’ll see if that changes over time. I prefer to keep moving rather that just standing, it feels better.

I have never been a good sitter for long periods of time, so long rides to Portland or Seattle feel better by using a small stool in the car to keep my legs extended rather than long periods of time sitting with knees bent. Time will tell.

I do know that “someone moved my cheese” and life is different as we change and age. I will make adjustments and go with the flow. Every day is a new day.

And I will take care of and appreciate my new knees.

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.

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