Recovering from Knee Surgery

Mike doing knee mobility exercises at Arbutus Physiotherapy and Health Centre

This article was first published at Arbutus Physiotherapy and Health Centre.


Recovery.

As a coach I use the term quite a bit when talking to athletes. I prefer to use the term when describing recovery from training, but unfortunately there are times when it refers to injuries as well. Recovery from injuries takes a lot of patience and perseverance and it comes in two forms: physical and mental.

Recovering from an injury is something that almost all athletes have to go through at some point in their sporting careers, regardless of their age, proficiency at sport or their level of competition. From the weekend warrior who develops a sore shoulder to the professional athlete who blows out a knee, there are certain steps that must be taken to ensure not only a fast return to ones chosen sport or form of exercise but a complete recovery from that injury. You want to ensure that the injured area is not only healed, but stronger than it was before.

Over my athletic career I have had many small injuries (way too many to list) and a few big ones (broken clavicle, broken hand, dislocated kneecap) that have needed the collective care of a great team; physicians, chiropractors, massage therapists and physiotherapists. If it weren’t for the strong team around me I would not still be competing 44 years into a life revolving around sport.

If there is one thing that is valuable to a long career it is making sure that you have a trusted group around you who are not only great at their professions, but that understand the mindset of an athlete.

If your doctor, massage therapist, physiotherapist, or chiropractor is an athlete, it is a real bonus. They will understand your desire to return to sport and do what you love.

This brings me to a significant cross road in my career as not only an athlete, but as a coach that trains and competes with his athletes.

Recently I was diagnosed with a tear in the lateral meniscus of my left knee. The decision to have it repaired was something that I contemplated for a few days, but with the great team I had around me the decision to have the surgery was actually quite easy.

Once the decision was made I thought of the recovery like I thought of getting ready for a race and a detailed plan was put in motion.

The plan

Step 1 – Surgery!

The surgery to repair a torn meniscus is pretty non invasive so I was lucky to have a great surgeon in Dr. James Stone who managed to save most of the meniscus and “clean up” the parts that were causing me the problems. I was pretty sure I would be able to run in a few weeks after the surgery, but Dr. Stone made me realize that this would not be happening quite that fast and I would have to tweak my timeline a little. Done!

Step 2 – Get the swelling down!

This is one of the most important steps when recovering from any trauma. The inflammation causes all kinds of problems and can delay healing and cause pain. Ice, painkillers and anti-inflammatory’s are very important. I spent a good solid 3 or 4 days rotating through ice packs with my leg elevated watching Netlflix. While a bit bored and uncomfortable from sitting for so long, I don’t remember any real pain after the surgery because I was diligent about keeping the swelling to a minimum.

Step 3 – Get Moving

While I was instructed to stay off the knee as much as I could in the initial stages I was told it was a good idea to get blood to the affected area. Within five days I was able to sit on a stationary trainer and spin my legs out with no resistance. As my coach Randy Zabukovec always told me; “motion is lotion” and in this case it was true. Getting blood moving through my legs was an important step in getting the healing process kick started.

Step 4 – Rehabilitation

This is where trips to the Physiotherapist became a daily event. Ultra sound was used to speed up the healing (this does not hurt) and soft tissue work was done on the surrounding muscles (this does hurt) so that the range of motion in the knee would start to come back quicker. A lot of the muscles surrounding knee had tightened in an effort to protect the area that was repaired so there was a lot of tightness and scar tissue building up where the incisions had been made. Since I had been walking/limping for a few weeks pre surgery and had a very altered walking gait in the days after the surgery I also had to have my opposite hip/ calf and low back tended to.

Step 5 – Returning to Sport

Cycling was a daily activity from day 5 after the surgery and each week I was able to add a little bit more resistance to the short spins on the trainer. Riding outside was not allowed due to the chance of falling and completely undoing all of the healing that had occurred. Once the incisions were healed I was able to get back into the pool and start to swim. Kicking was out, but a pull buoy and one leg push offs at the wall allowed me to start back into swimming within 2 weeks. It would be another 4 weeks before I took my first strides running. Even though it was only 6 X 2min running (and slow running) and 3min walking it felt awesome to be running again. I knew I was on the mend. It has now been 10 weeks and I am back to running 30 minutes at a time.

Teamwork makes the dream work

While 10 weeks might sound like a long time, the return to a full training schedule after this injury/surgery has gone by quickly. Having a great team, a plan and a willingness to listen to my body and not push it when things didn’t feel “right” were key to me getting to this point. A big thank you to my physiotherapist Sandy Wilson, sports physician Alex Brothers, surgeon Dr. James Stone, chiropractor Dr. Michael Buna, RMT Kristen Bradley and my coach Randy Zabukovec.