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Do you feel like you’re too young for knee replacement surgery? I thought I was too young and put my surgery off for several years.
In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on when to have TKR and several things to consider before making the decision to have TKR. We all know it’s a big decision, in fact, it’s life-changing.
Your doctor may have already told you that your knee joint is ready to be replaced, but only you can decide how long you can tolerate the pain and be happy with your quality of life before you make the decision to have TKR.
Learn From My TKR Experience
I initially injured my leg in my 20’s. It was the result of a sports’ injury and it was followed by two medial meniscus surgeries in my 20’s.
I continued to stay active, playing basketball and softball on a regular basis. As time went by my remaining cartilage began to wear away.
The pain began to present itself regularly in my 40’s and the knee would often swell after activity. I began to take anti-inflammatories and I would often ice my knee after activity.
Around the same time, I began to get an occasional cortisone shot. I also tried a series of hyaluronic acid injections without any improvement.
In my early 50’s I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. He took x-rays,had me go for an MRI and said I was definitely a candidate for knee replacement.
He told me that when the pain became unbearable that I should come back and schedule the surgery. I had done some research and knew at that time that knee replacements would last about 15 years.
I did not want to have a replacement too early and risk the chance of having a second replacement (once is tough enough). I continued to participate in my regular activities but my quality of performance decreased.
In my early 60’s I had quit playing basketball and softball and began to cycle, swim and hike. Hiking was by far the most painful. I could feel pain with every step I took.
At this time I developed a pronounced limp and my leg began to bow. If you’re a young guy or gal and considering TKR, I want to share 9 nuggets of advice with you – take it from someone who could have had knee replacement in my 40’s but waited for twenty years.
9 Pieces Of Nuggets For Young TKR Patients
#1 TKR Will Not Take You Back To Your Youth
You won’t be able to run long distances or jog daily. You probably will not be playing basketball, racquetball or other sports that require quickness.
But, you will be able to participate in the activities that you did before TKR only with less or no pain.
I discovered a new activity, pickleball that I now play twice a week.
#2 Find New Interests
You can definitely remain active but pick your activities wisely. You may want to take up low impact activities such as swimming and biking.
Find a buddy or a group to bike with. You may need to join a club or your local YMCA so that you can swim on a regular basis.
#3 A 2nd Replacement?
If you do have knee replacement surgery at a young age (in your 40’s and 50’s), know that you might need a second replacement 15-20 years or so down the road.
The new knees are getting better and lasting longer but they don’t always outlive you. Know that your knee replacement will eventually need to be replaced.
#4 Expect Pain In Recovery (and appreciate the pain meds)
If you are having TKR, pain is a part of the process whether you are young or old. Expect pain in varying degrees the first two weeks after surgery and also when you are doing your physical therapy (learn about the pain I experienced after surgery).
Follow your doctor’s orders for pain medication and use it only as directed. Elevate and ice often.
#5 Gain Strength
Strengthen the muscles around your knee as best you can before surgery. If you can’t lift weights with your knee try using the stationary bike and stair stepper in the gym and go on bike rides if possible (my advanced exercises prior to TKR).
Swimming is another good exercise to prepare your knee and your entire body for surgery. The stronger you are, the healthier you are and the less weight you carry will increase your chances for a speedy recovery.
#5 Don’t Lose Your Flexibility
Improve your flexibility. Riding a bicycle and the stationary bike have both helped me. I also do flexibility exercises in the pool because there is less resistance in the water.
Beginning yoga has also been a big help. Learning to stretch with a group and a compassionate leader has helped me to regain some flexibility.
#6 Healing Should Be Easier At A Younger Age
As far as healing, youth can be an advantage when having TKR. Younger patients are probably more active than older folks and because of your age, you’ll heal better and faster than older patients.
Use that youthful energy to your advantage especially during your rehabilitation. You can expect to bounce back more quickly than older patients.
#7 Eat Quality Food
Learn to enjoy healthy food and control your weight before and after surgery. If you need to lose weight prior to surgery include a healthy diet to go along with a pre-surgery fitness routine.
If you develop a fitness routine before surgery it’s easier to keep it going post-surgery.
#8 Don’t Stop Therapy
Continue your physical therapy exercises beyond your formal therapy sessions. Ask your physical therapist to help you to create a workout plan that you can do on your own after your formal sessions are over.
I still do many of the exercises that I was prescribed 6 months after surgery. I do my fitness routine at least 3 times a week and walk, ride my bike or swim on alternating days.
#9 Ice Is Your Friend (years before and after surgery)
Ice really helps. I continue to elevate and ice my leg after activity.
Sometimes while I am sitting in my recliner watching the evening news I ice my leg before dinner. If you have access to a hot tub use it often or after activity.
I can stretch and loosen my leg up and even do stretches and squats in the hot tub I use.
Doctors can tell you that the wear in your knee is at that point that you should consider a knee replacement. However, only you can gauge the pain and discomfort that it’s causing you.
If the pain is unbearable and it makes it difficult to work or to enjoy activity, then no matter your age you may want to consider having TKR. Quality of life is important and I’ve experienced a pain-free knee after my surgery.
Everyday activities, as well as the fitness activities I have chosen, have all been pain-free. The younger you are the chances are you may outlive your replacement and need another.
The advantage of being young is that you will likely heal faster and be able to resume work and activity sooner than older patients.