My knees didn’t go bad all at once; it was a slow decline over a period of about five years. During that time, I slowly developed numerous coping mechanisms to avoid the pain that occurred when the bones in my knees ground together. This resulted in a stiff-legged hobble, and a tendency to lift my hip to step up over a curb, rather than bend my knee. Now, I’m struggling to ditch those bad habits.
My wife says that with my new knee joints, I walk “like a robot.” This is from a fear of becoming off-balance, and having to make a sudden, possibly painful, corrective move. My physical therapist tells me that I walk “like a pregnant woman,” because I still want to use the stiff-legged hobbling walk, and I tend to splay my legs to maintain balance.
So I use this “pregnant robot” criticism as a motivational tool to try and correct my gait. My physical therapist goads me into walking around the house “like a man,” lengthening my stride, lifting my feet as though stepping over a box of Kleenex, swinging my arms, and swiveling my head from side to side to force me to make balance corrections. It feels unnatural after so many years of cautious pain-avoidance. I feel like a comedian doing an exaggerated manly walk.
Despite my challenge to walk normally, my physical therapist has dubbed me “the poster child for bilateral knee replacement.” One reason she feels this way is that I’ve recovered a great deal of strength, and I’ve developed excellent knee flexion. Normal people can flex their knees to around 160 degrees. The anticipated maximum for knee replacement patients is around 130 degrees (due to limitations in the artificial joint). Currently, I can flex 134 degrees. I’m going to try and achieve even more flexion, because there are so many things I need to do around the house that involve squatting or kneeling back on my heels (kneeling is currently not a pleasant experience).
Unfortunately, I’m falling short of the goal for knee extension. Almost everyone can extend their legs to zero degrees (legs straight). Normal people actually exceed zero degrees when standing, “locking” their knees by bending the leg backward a few degrees. My physical therapist tells me that recovering this ability after knee replacement surgery is crucial, to avoid the possibility of the knees buckling. She also tells me that it’s the hardest goal to achieve, and I believe her. She has me sit on a chair, legs extended, my heels resting on another chair. Then she holds a measuring device up to my leg and presses down hard on the knee. Yeah, it hurts.
I’ve been going a little stir-crazy at home. My wife strictly forbade me to drive a car until my physical therapist said it was OK (my surgeon said it was OK weeks ago). Eventually, the two of them agreed that I was capable of driving, so I gratefully ran errands rather than sit home and watch TV. My boss told me that I’m not allowed to go into the office while on Short Term Disability, because of the insurance liability. So I got my doctor’s office to sign a “Return to Work” certificate, which means that on Monday, I’m officially off Short Term Disability and back to work. I wonder if my company’s insurance covers pregnant robots.