FAQs: Bilateral Knee Replacement Surgery
For those of you who have been around since my “Rheum & Board” blog days, this blog post may look very familiar. This week marks EIGHT years since having both of my knees replaced and I wanted to mark the occasion by adding this post to my website. I get asked quite often about knee replacement surgery, so I figure this is just an easier place to direct all those who ask…
I have been asked quite a bit about my experience and advice on total knee replacement (TKR) surgery. However, I never thought to just put the information out there without being asked. Well, I was asked again about it the other day and since Facebook keeps conversations, I’m able to do a simple copy/paste and share it with you! Please let me know if you have additional questions – I am more than willing to share all that I know, through my personal experience, about TKR surgery.
MEG: hi taelor! My name is Meg and I follow you on Instagram. I have rheumatoid arthritis like you, and I would really love your advice. I have been told by an orthopedic specialist that my knee, my right knee is that of a 70 year old. He wants me to wait 10 years to have the knee replacement surgery. But my quality of life is really suffering. I’m 24 and I can’t do the things I want to do. I know you have had both knees replaced, and I would love your advice. Any advice you can give me. Thanks Meg.
TAELOR: Hi Meg! Thanks for reaching out. Funny enough, I was told pretty much the opposite about when to have mine replaced; doctors said sooner rather than later and I was the one holding off! I don’t know your physical limitations, but I’ll tell you what mine were at the time: I had tried stem cell therapy in both knees and there was NO sign of improvement (huge waste of money). Both knees were bent for years and I struggled to walk, but my pride was too great for a wheelchair. After the stem cell therapy, it was nearly impossible to get around without a cane. My range of motion was about 30 degrees – It was difficult for me to sit in tighter areas like the back of a vehicle. I could not get down onto the ground or back up again without a couch/chair to assist myself. I started to develop callouses on my feet, where I was putting a lot of pressure. I also started getting spider veins behind my knees (at 24!?) from them being bent for so long. I was constantly turning down invitations because I just was not physically capable of many things. It also started affecting my confidence… I cried and cried when I went to the doctor who ended up performing the surgeries – he insisted we do it ASAP and I was so sad to be so young and have to get them replaced. So, at 25, I had both knees replaced at once. About six months post op, I was becoming myself again. 8 months later, I walked down the aisle to marry my best friend. A year later, I skied for the first time in about 6-7 years. I still have many limitations, but my arms are my biggest issue now. My quality of life is vastly different from pre-opp; I have never looked back and to be honest, I wish I had done it sooner! So, I guess if I were you, I would take a look at the pros and cons and figure out what would be best for you. My only con was that I would have to get them replaced again and now that I’ve been through it, I think the recovery will be easier next time around. I hope this helps and I’m more than happy to answer any other questions! xTaelor
MEG: My doctor said i need the surgery but he’s concerned about me having to potentially replace it 2 times in my life and the complications that come with it, like infections. I’m so much not afraid of this, I’m afraid of not living life to its fullest. You said it took about 6 months to get better after surgery. Is that because you had them both at same time. I love to know how your recovery went. Thanks again. I can’t fully extend my leg or fold it. I feel like most days im walking with shattered glass in my knee. On a good day I’m at a pain level of 3 with limited function, on bad days it hard to get off the couch. I fell once off a swing and I couldn’t get up. My brother had to pull me up. I’m so miserable and a bit angry at myself for letting it get this far.
TAELOR: It’s not your fault that it’s progressed so much – it’s just how these diseases work, unfortunately. I will most likely have to have mine replaced two more times, but I am also hopeful that there will be amazing advances in medicine and technology by the time I come ’round to my next surgeries. I’ve gotten an infection in one of them and while it totally sucked and set me back, it wasn’t the end of the world and I was back to skiing that winter (surgery in Oct). Depending on how bad the infection is, they’ll give antibiotics (no matter what) and then if surgery is needed (I needed it) they will either go in and clean it out, basically with a power washer (this was me) and replace the plastic, or they will do an entire replacement – metal and plastic. For me, this was about two nights in the hospital and a PICC line for six weeks of daily antibiotics. Everyone’s recovery is different and you definitely get results from how much work you do or don’t put in. At first, it was so painful to do the physical therapy; I didn’t give it my all. So, this resulted in going back into the hospital about 7 weeks later for MUA (manipulation under anesthesia) of both knees; I was given an epidural, and my knees were manually forced to bend and straighten more. I also stayed in the hospital for about 3 days. After that, I started pushing myself more. I had physical therapy twice a week, ate very clean, did pilates and also used oxygen therapy (hyperbaric oxygen chamber). I would say my absolute full recovery was about a year, but after about six months, I was feeling good and able to walk unassisted. I would imagine that just having one knee would make recovery much easier. One thing I tell everyone who is looking into knee replacement surgery is to start preparing now – no matter when you have the surgery. Start strengthening the muscles around the joint. Swim, lift weights, do pilates, get massages (rolf method is amazing), try acupuncture and work on decreasing inflammation. Had I known about bone broth back then, I would imagine my recovery would have been even better. We live and we learn, right?? x
MEG: You really opened my eyes to how hard I will have to work after surgery. I now know that this won’t be a quick fix and I’ll have to work really hard. I’ll be starting physical therapy soon. I’m hoping to build my quad muscle up and see if it will help with mobility.
TAELOR: It is a lot of work, but it’s doable and it’s so worth it!! I don’t know what you do for work, but I would save up all your sick/vacation time because you will most likely be taking off a MINIMUM of two weeks, if not much more. I am not sure how much recovery time one knee is, but I was in the hospital for 5 days and then in a rehabilitation center for another 7. I’ve heard that one knee is often just a night or two at the hospital, but I can’t say for sure. xx
So, there you have it – a typical conversation about TKR surgery. I hope this answers questions others may have and if there’s more you’d like to know, please leave a comment.