Knee surgery: The reality of rehab

Knee surgery is only one part of the journey, rehab requires patience and persistence. The reality of how long it takes to recover can catch people by surprise.

A commitment to a rehabilitation program plays a crucial role in helping you get back on your feet and back to the activities you love after knee surgery. 

We’ve followed the journey of two people, each with a very different injury, and experience through surgery and rehab.

Watch Ron and Kabir's story in this video and read on to hear more about their stories and advice to others.

Ron's story

77-year-old Ron Reid had two knee reconstructions (one on each knee) and learnt some important lessons the first time around.

He had a bad reaction to the pain medication, and wound up in the intensive care unit (ICU) with his leg bent for a few days. As a result, he found it hard to straighten his knee after surgery, setting him back in his recovery.

“So with the next one I learnt as soon as I came out of the anaesthetic to straighten it out right away and also I worked harder on my strength exercises,” says Ron.

Ron says strengthening work, before the second surgery made the world of difference in his recovery.

Physiotherapist Josh Masters agrees. He says, wherever possible, prehab (strengthening work before surgery) is really important.

“If that work can be done before the surgery, then the muscles seem to activate and control the area better after surgery,” he says. “That means you can get moving more quickly, start walking well and get back to the things that are important to you in your life much quicker after surgery.”

Ron found continuing the rehab work at a gym, after being realised from the hospital rehabilitation program, really helped him to get back to his active lifestyle.

“I really think it’s very important, because after you come out from the normal rehab after the operation, you don’t really fire up,” he says. “You need somewhere to go to help you along with your exercises, just to be a bit more supported.” 

 “I still try to do some physical work a couple of times a week, sometimes three if I can fit it in.”

Ron says after just over a year of rehab, he’s 90 per cent recovered, but 100 per cent better than he was before having any surgery.

Kabir's story

Kabir Sengupta, a 29-year-old marketing consultant, ruptured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) playing mixed netball.

He thought he would ice it off and it would improve, but after five weeks he was still hobbling around. An MRI confirmed the news he wasn’t prepared for. A ruptured ACL - one of the major ligaments in the knee, connecting the femur to the tibia.

“I felt quite dark when the physio looked at me and said you’ve got a ruptured ACL,” says Kabir. “I almost felt quite depressed.”

One minute he was playing sport, the next he was embarking on a 12-month journey, first the surgery, then a rigorous rehabilitation program.

“I had a really good physio and he explained the entire process to me,” says Kabir. “I was told from the very start that the surgery is the first part and equally important is the rehab which would take at least 12 months,” says Kabir.

He decided there was no point being upset about it. Instead, he treated his rehab as the most important thing in his life.

“Once I had the surgery I had a brand-new knee, I felt like a baby in one leg and I had to learn to walk again,” he says. “The first three months were the most intense because you’re on very heavy pain killers, which you need to take so you can do your physio.”

In the first week after surgery, he was doing 20 minutes of rehab at home, three times a day. As he got stronger it was once a day.

“It became the most important part of my day, because it is my knee and I want to get back to the things I enjoyed before,” he says.

For Kabir it was important he trusted his physio and surgeon, and felt comfortable asking questions so he knew exactly what to expect.

“One of the things that helped me is knowing I wasn’t in control of this situation so I had to trust my physio and my surgeon,” he says. “Having that strong bond between the three entities (myself, the physio and the surgeon) was really good and it was the reason I was so successful with the rehab.”

It’s been 11 months since the surgery, and Kabir’s knee is completely recovered – he’s even training for a marathon.

He recommends anyone else going through knee surgery make the rehabilitation their number one focus.

“It’s quite a big thing, a massive part of your life has got to be dedicated to your rebab.”

Ron and Kabir recommend:

Straightening your knee as soon as possible after surgery
Ensure you have space to do your rehab at home
Find the right pain medication and take it so you can continue your physio
If possible, do strengthening work before surgery
Find a doctor and physio you trust
Ask as many questions as possible so you’re prepared for what’s ahead
Treat your rehab is if it’s the most important thing
Continue strengthening work to protect your knees into the future
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