This video is about my journey from total knee replacement back to riding my bikes again.
But here’s a spoiler first… I felt l great by the 12th week after surgery. Well enough to ride 31 miles in 4 hours on my recumbent trike!
There’s a reason you haven’t seen any videos from me in awhile. My right knee had been failing with arthritis. I got bad last December 2021.
It seems I had worn my right knee down to bone on bone. And because of that, its lubricating bursa sack was leaking fluid and developed a large baker’s cyst behind my knee. And that leaked down my right calf and foot and caused painful swelling. Too painful to walk the dog around the block or ride my bike.
I talked to a few doctors and they all agreed on the same fix. A total knee replacement. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike for a while for about 3 months; the month before surgery because it hurt too much, and the 2 months after while I was recovering.
For me, cycling is like an addiction. I’ve been an active cyclist since the early 2000s. If you are a constant cyclist like I am, you know how wonderful riding a bike makes you feel. It helps manage your weight, control stress, you get all those great feeling endorphins.
My last group recumbent trike ride was on December 5th 2021. I remember that distinctly the following week I really began to notice the worsening pain in my right knee when walking. Over the next 6 weeks it got really bad fast! To the point where I had to use a cane to walk. Cycling was absolutely out of the question, it just hurt too much!
As an active person this was very difficult for me. Sitting around the house wasn’t an option for me.
I reported to the hospital for my surgery on February 2nd, 2022. Everything went fine. The procedure took about an hour and a half. It was a routine operation, and I was transferred to a room in the afternoon. I wasn’t feeling any pain because I had a nerve block all the way down my leg. The nerve block lasted for about 72 hours. There was simply an 8-inch straight bandage up the front of my knee. My leg was also very swollen and stiff.
A physical therapist visited me in the morning. All I could do was stand up out of bed, take two steps forward, two steps back, and get back into bed. The doctor sent me home a few hours later with a big bottle of percocet. At home I was popping a percocet every 4 hours for the next 2 weeks to control the pain as per doctor’s orders.
Honestly I didn’t like being stoned 24 hours a day. By the third week I was able to manage my pain better, only taking percocet at night to help me sleep.
Sleep was a huge problem! Sleeping is the number one complaint of all knee surgery patients. The doctors don’t even know why you just can not sleep after knee surgery. This procedure totally screws up your cicada rhythm. You fall asleep like a narcoleptic during the day and during the night I’ll just roll around in bed? It was really really horrible.
You get depressed at times when you can’t sleep for weeks on end! you’re like a zombie.
I stopped taking the percocet after 4 weeks. Then the drug withdrawal symptoms kick in for for several days; brain fog, chills, sweats, bad headaches.
My leg and foot were very swollen. I had ordered several new pairs of tight compression socks to wear during my recovery from Amazon. I highly recommend you buy some if you have this surgery.
I was going crazy during these recovery weeks because all I could do was sit around the house with my legs up on the LazyBoy most of the time, and do my physical therapy exercises. My weight increased from about 192 to 205 pounds because I was sedentary. My only outlet was food and Netflix.
Blair and Belinda were my physical therapists (PT) during the eight weeks post-surgery. They visited me at home twice a week. I’ll tell you it was pretty tough for the first 4 weeks of PT. Because my right leg was still very swollen. There was a lot of grunting and groaning as I pushed my knee to flex and stretch. I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in my new knee.
Walking was… well, it felt like I had a peg leg for those first few weeks.
The exercises were tough but the physical therapist was excellent. They got me through it with a lot of motivation and encouragement. My range of motion increased a little bit every session.
My turning point in my recovery was on February 11th, about 2 weeks after surgery. My physical therapist gave me a little under the desk pedal device, you can find them for around $40 on Amazon. It looked ridiculous. But when you have a very short range of motion on your operative knee they can be very difficult and painful to pedal. I couldn’t get my feet to spin the cranks a full circle yet. Blair had me rotating my feet back and forth, back and forth.
After 5 days of practice I finally got the cranks to spin a full 360 degrees rotation! It wasn’t easy.
March 4th was an epiphany for me. Blair was working PT with me. That was the first day I was able to actually spin my feet all the way around the cranks with relatively little pain. I was still stiff at the top of the pedal stroke . I had to push it through letting out a loud groan. I really didn’t care. I was just so happy that I could turn the pedals around. I had my recumbent bike on a stationary trainer in the living room.
I said to Blair “let’s go see if I can spin the pedals on the bike,” and I did! I was just absolutely astounded. I wish I could have seen the look on my face! For the first time in 3 weeks I was sitting on the bike and turning the pedals around! I said to Blair “Okay, let’s go to the garage and try it out on my recumbent trike.”
Now my Catrike Road has a bit more compressed riding position; the knees are in tighter and the feet are up above the hips. The seat is very low to the ground too. I was actually afraid that if I got down onto the seat I may not be able to get back up again. I felt secure that Blair would offer a helping hand to get me up if needed.
I placed my Sportcraft Trike Trainer under the rear wheel and sat into my trike.. I had to help my right leg up on its pedal, and began to spin the cranks. That first rotation was like the heavens opened up for me. Just couldn’t believe I actually did it! I just sat there with a look of Amazement on my face. I spent the next 3 minutes spinning my cranks some more. I still had to push through the top of the pedal stroke as my knees still were quite stiff. I didn’t care if I had to grunt and groan as I turned the crank. I was just so happy I could actually do it! Getting out of the seat wasn’t the problem either. I was able to do that all by myself too.
That was the real beginning of my recovery. I had turned the corner! The next morning I took my trike out for a 20 minutes ride. That was the most excitement I had in 3 months.
By 8 weeks post surgery I was finally able to drive the car again. Necessary because my in-home PT ended. Now I had to drive for my in-office PT over the next 4 weeks.
There’s something I haven’t told you yet.
In March of 2021 I had my left hip replaced. I thought adding eAssist to both my recumbent bike and trike would help my hip recover and get stronger more quickly and comfortably. And it did! What I didn’t know was that it would be even more helpful for my future total knee replacement.
I installed a rear hub motor system on my trike about May of 2021. For those of you who care, it’s a 48 volt Falco system with a thumb throttle and pedal assist.
During the Total Knee Replacement proceedure, the surgeon cuts the tendon on the top of the thigh and stitches it back together. That makes your quad muscles very sore and weak.
My right quad thigh muscles had atrophied very badly in the days after surgery, and became very very weak. Starting to ride my trike from a stand still was difficult. Here’s where the throttle was a huge help to get me moving. Using a pedal assist was super helpful because I didn’t have to over stress my right quad.
Over the next few weeks I reduced the level of pedal assist and increased the gear difficulty to strengthen my quad muscles. By the 14th week my right quad feels about as strong as it used to be.
At 12 weeks and 4 days post surgery I completed a group ride of 4 hours and 31 miles! It was amazing. No knee or quad pain at all.
At 14 weeks post surgery, I am walking normally again. I’ve completed all my PT and continue my exercises on my own.
I may never run or jog again but I can walk briskly, ride my bikes as I love to, and live a normal life.
So what’s my recommendation for you? If you are having increasing pain in your knee, see your doctor and get an x-ray. Your doctor can tell you if you’re down to bone on bone or headed in that direction. If knee replacement surgery is the best recommendation for you, don’t put it off, just get it done.
Knee replacement surgery is the most common procedure done today. I won’t lie to you, it is a difficult experience. It will cost you about 12 weeks of your life. But after that, you’ll be feeling well enough to do just about anything you did before. Without pain. In the end it’s all worth it. Especially if you love riding your bike as I do.