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15 Knee Surgery Tips for Climbers

There are all types of knee surgery, from ligament repairs and reconstructions to cartilage trims and kneecap scrapes.  Two of the Womenclimb team have been in for knee surgery in the last 12 months (August 2015 and Feb 2016) for meniscus repair and ACL reconstruction respectively.  They have put together their top tips to help climbers who have knee surgery.

  • How will you carry your lovely cup of tea into the lounge during your recuperation, if you are using crutches?
  • How do you want your surgery to affect your life in the future?

These tips are about helping you make good decisions for you.  They’re based on the experiences of the Womenclimb team and they are not an exhaustive list.  As always, check with your health professional if you have any doubts or questions.

15 Practical Tips for coping with Knee Surgery

Pre Knee-Surgery Tips

Would you buy a car without finding out whether it works properly or without finding out what type of fuel it uses or how much it might cost to run?  If you are having knee surgery you are the customer and your surgeon is in business.  Her/his motives may be slightly different to yours.

A knee operation will affect your mobility, one way or the other, for the rest of your life.  You are responsible for your recovery and for the preparation.  Asking as many questions as you need, to feel really happy, is perfectly acceptable.  If your surgeon doesn’t want to answer, what are they trying to hide?  You don’t have to accept fuzzy answers and you are not being difficult, awkward or troublesome, you are being responsible, engaged and assertive.

1.  Quiz your knee surgeon

Things you could ask your knee surgeon:

  1. How many of this operation has s/he done?
  2. What is her/his success rate?
  3. What is their method for carrying out the procedure?
  4. What is their post-operative protocol?
  5. When, exactly, will you start your physio?
  6. When, exactly, will you see her/him post-op?
  7. What can you expect to feel like after the op?
  8. Is there anything you should know for after the operation that you haven’t been told (bruising, pains, side effects)?
  9. What level of sport/ activity could you expect to be doing in 1, 3, 6 months?
  10. What are the possible complications?
  11. What is their medical assessment of your knee?
  12. What is the aim of the operation (reduced pain, mobility, stability)?

How you will feel after the operation is always hard to tell.  Speaking to your surgeon can help put your mind at ease.

2.  Shave your knees

Beth didn’t.  Because of that, taking off the clinical gauze ‘was like a hardcore waxing session’.  Ouch.  But….. read number 3 first…

3.  Keep your knees Cut-Free

Be careful not to damage the skin on your knee before your operation.  The surgeon may refuse to carry out surgery if there is any sign of skin damage.  The reason for this is to protect you.  Skin damage or irritation pre-operation can cause infection, so some surgeons may not carry out surgery if your skin has a cut of any type.  The surgeon carrying out Emily’s ACL surgery was very strict and did a thorough knee inspection on the day of surgery.  Cut = absolutely no surgery until healed.

4.  Do your pre-hab!

Pre-hab is about getting into the best physical shape that you can for your knee operation.  Find out, direct from your surgeon, what you can do to be in the very best shape for your op.  What do you need to do, how often and for how long?  Plan it, organise it and do it, for yourself and your future knees!

Emily says: “I hated the gym.  But when I went to see an NHS physio about some ankle problems, about six weeks before my knee op, he said it was important for me to really focus on my quad and hamstring strengthening.  I realised how important it was and knew that if I really worked hard I could get fit in time.  I found some exercises on Youtube with the help of a physio, and decided to go to the gym 5 times a week, before work.  It was really tough to fit in with work and being a single parent, but my thighs were like steel after six weeks.  The week before my op the physio said I was in really good shape

I’m really glad I did that work, because after the op I lost huge amounts of muscle and couldn’t do even a tiny squat for about 8 weeks.  I didn’t realise how quickly muscle wastes.  I was so glad I did my pre-exercises otherwise I would have been in real trouble.

Ask:

  • Where do I need to get to (physically) and when?
  • What do I need to do to get to that goal?
  • Who will help me?

5.  Join a gym

If you can afford it, join a gym and commit to going at set times and a certain number of times per week leading up to your op.

Before her ACL reconstruction surgery in February, Emily went 5 times a week before work, getting up at 5.45, getting there for 6, leaving at 7.30 for work.  It meant early bedtimes for six weeks, but the work paid off.

6.  Find a pre-hab/ Rehab buddy

If you can find someone to check in with every week to show her/ him your progress, then you’re much more likely to stick with it.  Even if it means sending a photo every Sunday night, to your friend, showing your quads and how long you did the plank for, it can really help.

Ask:

  • Who do I know?
  • Who would love to be my rehab buddy
  • Who would like to help me get back climbing/ doing sport?
  • Is there a Facebook group I could join for this?

7.  Buy a Bum Bag

We know – it’s not the 1980’s, but rest assured, if you are hobbling around on crutches, a bum bag to carry your phone, pain medication & book around the house will be a life saver.  Get one in advance, so you’re prepared.

8. Get a flask with a handle

The handle is important – it allows you to clip your mug/ flask onto the belt of your bum bag to enjoy a cup of tea on the sofa, rather than in the kitchen next to the kettle!  Again, preparation is the key, buy this in advance.

9.  Cook in advance

Cook a whole load of healthy meals in advance and put them in freezer bags in the freezer to heat in the microwave when you need them.  Freeze them in small half-portions, so you don’t waste things in the early days, when you might only manage a small meal.  It’s most likely that you won’t want to eat for a few days, which is when most people will be around helping you out.  Depending on your surgery you could be immobile for a few weeks, so pre-made food can be just what you need.

Ask: 

  • What do I love to eat?
  • What can I make in advance?
  • Can my friends help?

Post Knee-Surgery Tips

10.  Arrange for someone to stay with you/ be close by, for at least 5 days.

If you live with someone, that’s fine.  If you live alone it can be more tricky.  Even though you only need someone for 24hrs according to the hospital, it is likely to be very hard to get around and manage things like carrying food to somewhere comfortable to eat.

Knee surgery equipment

After surgery you will probably feel like your surgeon has used something like this to perform your operation. You will need some help to do everyday things.

11.  Insist on physiotherapy as soon as possible after surgery

Beth’s physio started really late and she felt that this had a negative impact on her recovery.  If your surgeon has stated that you should be having physio at a certain stage, call your hospital and insist that you are seen.

Find out:

  • When should I have my first physiotherapy session?
  • Who will I contact if I need to call them?

12.  Request your physio

You may be able to have a choice of where you go for physio, so do your research. Independent/private hospitals sometimes have contracts with your GP and may not be constrained to NHS protocols.  Mobile units, while they may not look like standard healthcare settings, can offer outstanding care.

13.  Buy a 3-month Climbing pass

To get back into the swing of things and as an incentive a 3-month pass can be great, as long as you are ready and have passed it with your surgeon.  For some knee ops that will be after 6 weeks and for others it will be 12 months later.  Buying a climbing pass when it's time can be a great motivator.

Beth says: “I bought a 3 month climbing pass at my local wall. This not only motivated me to go but also allowed me to go for the odd hour here and there without worrying about ‘getting the most’ out of the entry cost.

14.  Train carefully

In training, if you attempt feet-off work on the campus board, you risk slipping off onto your operated leg.  Make the right decision for your situation.  For example, the first 6 weeks post meniscus repair is partial weight bearing, requiring two crutches.Training after knee operation

Beth says: “For me I made sure I never went to maximum pump and I did only basic dead hangs and pull ups to reduce the risks. I also always had an instructor/ coach with me as a spotter too.'

15.  Be nice to yourself

Remember that everyone progresses differently.  Let your buddy know if you’re struggling.  Send us a message if you want some moral support – we know that it’s not easy and there are times when recovery seems a long way away and other times when you feel elation at your progress.  You’re not alone.  Reach out.

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