Like many of us, you may know people who have had their knee amputated. And then, hopefully, replaced. We’re not sure if this is the most common ailment that afflicts senior pickleball players – other candidates could be shoulder surgery and hip replacements. But of the common operations this one is the most significant. Substantial therapy is required to get through the weeks following the operation, which has a success factor of 99%. And beyond that you are mostly expected to not have that much tournament play thereafter as Medicare is not fond of doing second or third replacements on the same knee, we’re told.
Irene has been dealing with two knees that may have to be replaced at some point. She has gone through five arthroscopic surgeries, and is now left with almost no meniscus in either knee. AJ, until recently, had not had any problems with his knees. Until recently as we said. But recently his began hurting and like Irene an MRI showed no meniscus in the afflicted knee. Unlike Irene his knee hurt significantly and was limiting what he could do. So, recently, we went through the knee joint amputation and replacement process with him (knee replacement).
Not pretty. He’s known to whine at almost anything and this one allowed for a significant amount of forced invaliding. Six weeks past the operation, however, all is pretty good and he is expected to be seen dinking on Palm Creek’s beautiful courts any day now.
So the purpose of this article is simply to say that knee replacement/operations are possible. In recovery he has found that water aerobics rocks for dealing with the after-operation exercises, allowing him to recover full range of motion much sooner and with much less hassle. Additionally, his knee no longer hurts much. Would he do it again, if the other knee acts up? Maybe, but would try the following first:
- Injections. He did these, but there are more and better every day. Look to injections as a short-term patch and not a solution. They can last up to a couple of years, however, so definitely are worth a try.
- Water aerobics. This, as expressed before, works to rehab knees but also works well to strengthen interior and exterior muscles so that, possibly, knee operations can be averted entirely. Irene is going through water aerobics with AJ and she is back to playing pickleball two-three times a week without too much discomfort.
- Anti-inflammatories. We’re not here to recommend medications – we aren’t doctors -but the right dose of meds before playing (In her case, an hour before playing) works wonders. Remember to check in with your doctor about which anti-inflammatories to take. They aren’t all the same.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet, such as Paleo, Keto, South Beach, Mediterranian, or the Whole30. These diets share many approaches and all of them can work to reduce inflammation in your body which will positively impace the stress on joints impacted by arthritis and other inflammation-caused ailments. They’re also better ways to live and (gasp!) you may lose a little weight, too.
- Drink more water. Boring. Any recovery cycle from any ailment is going to include drinking more water to flush toxins. AJ is terrible about this and has to fool himself into drinking other stuff – no, not alcohol, he doesn’t drink alcohol – but iced tea, coffee, etc. There are rumors that drinking coffee is a net loss, you pee out more than you save, but other recent studies say that isn’t true, that even coffee is a net add in the water department.
- Weight training. Since your knee hurts and you aren’t playing pickleball, work out more. Again, boring. But overall whatever strength you can add especially to your lower carriage and most especially to your quads can support your knees greatly. AJ is working quads religiously in a swimming pool and it’s helping.
- Aerobic training, especially bike training. Bikes are wonderful work for your knees and for your stamina.
- Time off. Cross training. Stuff that doesn’t directly work your knees. Give yourself some recovery time. Yes, you are old, and yes, you don’t have that much time left. We are there with you, being now in our 70s. But show some discipline, for God’s sake. You will be glad you finally put on your big boy pants!
The above are our ideas only. We’d be interested in hearing yours, as always.
UPDATE: AJ is a year past surgery and at last feels that he’s recovered pretty well. This irritated him (the long time it took) as several of our friends were back playing pickleball inside a couple of months and he’s still not playing. However, things are better and we’d expect to see him on the courts before too long. So patience, not an attribute that Aj possesses, is a great thing when recovering from knee surgery. That is more of a “do as we say, not as we do” kind of thing. Lastly, Irene reports that she is now better than ever and doesn’t see knee surgery in her future. Her trick has been to cross-train with speed-walking and not play p-ball every day. (What a concept – it’s one that we wrote about in #6 above.)
We have also found out (through the experiences of friends) that there is perhaps a procedure that causes less pain than does the traditional front-cut full-knee or partial-knee replacement. This is an operation in which the surgeon enters the area through the back, which allows him/her to cut less critical tendons/ligaments/nerves/whatever-we’re-not-doctors and further it allows them to pack in more anti-pain meds directly into the affected area. A good friend was back on the courts playing in six weeks after the operation. Well, he was a good friend, anyway.
The above is not medical advice – we aren’t qualified to give any – but as near as we know it’s an accurate rendition of the facts as we heard them expressed. Anyway, know there are options. Do yourself a favor and look for them.