On October 29th, I finally underwent knee replacement surgery at the Royal Surrey in Guildford.
This, hopefully, will be the final chapter in what has been a 15-year saga of intermittent discomfort but also discovery and acceptance. I have learned a great deal about how to manage a body that will no longer comply with the physical expectations of its forever youthful occupant. One who still thinks like a 20-year-old. I have come (reluctantly I admit) to accept that a certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable as we age. Change of lifestyle is necessary, and remedies are also called for. Not everything is fixable though, a certain amount of stoicism tempered and lightened by unquenchable optimism is essential. I have come to realise that being open always to new ideas, however crazy-sounding and a determination to stick with those that work is a reliable survival strategy. In sharing some of what I have learned here, it is my simple hope that you may benefit in some way. Avoiding some of the cul de sac that I have wastefully wandered down on my meandering journey.
On reflexion, and in fairness to my body in general but my knees specifically, I have put them through hell for most of my life. Falling out of trees as a child, playing basketball obsessively as a teenager and then mixed martial arts with the same level of OCD enthusiasm as an adult. Throw in half a dozen motorbike accidents along the way, and you will understand why at 50 years old, my knees were shot! So much so that on bad days I had to lean on crutches to get around. A further complication and source of added discomfort was that I had started to have frequent gout attacks. These and Judo injuries had left me with feet that resembled gnarled concrete. So in 2004, I sought medical help and to my surprise was immediately offered cortisone shots and two new knees by an enthusiastic orthopaedic surgeon on the Isle of Wight. Desperate as I was to be more mobile and out of pain, I decided instead to see if I could improve things "naturally," I was a Rolfer and Tai Chi teacher after all. I knew that the steroid shots would only mask the pain and increase the likelihood of further arthritic damage, so it was a no-brainer to refuse them.
But what next?
Well as synchronicity would have it, I chanced upon an article from the New York Magazine by Adam Sternbergh, entitled "You Walk Wrong"
In the article, he talked about how wrong shoes have been for us and the benefits of barefoot walking.
It all made sense to me and researching the barefoot thing further, I discovered, "Born to Run" a book about ultra-marathon runners and the Tarahumara Indians who run hundreds of miles barefoot, just for fun.
Obviously, it was worth a try, and I was soon slipping on my first pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes.
Without a word of exaggeration, after just a week of wearing my Vivos, I was off my crutches, and my knee pain was 50% less. A month later and my feet were noticeably softer, wider and beginning to resemble human flesh again. My toes had straightened, and I felt more balanced, stronger and somehow more in touch with the earth. And my knee pain had gone completely, for the time-being a least.
The barefoot shoes were a massive help, and for the past 15 years, I have worn nothing else. My children, their partners and many of my Rolf and Tai Chi clients have also adopted the barefoot lifestyle with the same significant improvements in posture, movement and pain relief.
Other things that have helped:
For me, though there was a further complication lurking in the background and I discovered only a few years ago that I also have rheumatoid arthritis. This had been the major cause of painful inflammation in my toes, ankles, wrists, elbows and of course, my knees too. It was also preventing my gout medication from working and has definitely been responsible for much of the damage to my knee joints.
Bringing the whole story up to date, I now take regular medication to control the RA and the gout. Sulfasalazine for the RA and Alopurinol for the gout. I don't like taking meds every day, but they are working so I've had to step down off my high horse and accept (for the time being anyway) that pharmaceuticals are sometimes a necessary evil.
Two months on from my surgery, the jury is still out on my bionic knee. I have religiously followed the recommended physiotherapy exercises, adding a few of my own for good measure. In addition to the hospital physio, I have regular treatments from Lizzie my local Rolfing colleague and Reiki from Angie, my wife. I am working on the scar tissue myself with Comfrey and Arnica cream plus more recently some CBD infused lotion too. They all seem to be helping with the discomfort, and my knee extension has gone down from 15º to 8º - Flexion up from 80º to 110º. As the impatient person that I am, progress is nowhere near quick enough for me. There is still quite a bit of swelling and some pain (although not as bad as before the op) and if I am honest, I am worried that I will never be able to bend my knee fully. I have been told that i can take as much as a year for the swelling to subside so in the meantime I continue to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the leg. So its a case of 'watch this space,' I guess?
I have shared my story in the hope that it might provide, hope, inspiration and perhaps some useful tips to those on a similar journey. I would also be very interested and grateful to hear from anyone who has their own experinece of replacement knee surgery and any further advice or encouragement will be gratefully accepted.