A Quality of Life Issue

For a local woman and her surgeon, quality of life steers knee replacement decision

When Judith Rodney was in her early 50s, three doctors told her that she was too young to have her knees replaced. But her arthritis was growing worse over time, causing her tremendous pain, stiffness and curvature in her knee joints. As a manager in human resources for the federal government, Rodney found it challenging to get through each workday. She walked with the help of a cane and often used wheelchairs while traveling.

“I tried everything,” remembers Rodney. “I had steroid shots, I did physical therapy, but nothing stopped the pain.”

One day Rodney attended a free seminar about joint replacement led by Kevin Fricka, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. One of the key messages that she took away from the class was that age is not the deciding factor for knee surgery; quality of life is what matters. The message hit home. Rodney made an appointment to see  Dr. Fricka, and in July 2008, he replaced her left knee. The procedure was so  successful, Rodney had her right knee done three months later.

“In the past with older implants and older material, the statement from physicians may have been to hold off as long as you could to have a knee replacement,” says Dr. Fricka. “However, nowadays with the newer technology, newer materials and knee replacements lasting longer, if you’re at a point in your life where you’re debilitated by arthritis and it bothers you daily, I don’t believe there’s  a too-young category anymore.”

Flexible Knees

When Rodney had her first knee replaced, she was walking soon after surgery. She returned home two days later and could climb up and down her stairs with ease.

“My results were so good, it was unbelievable!” Rodney recalls.

Rodney embarked on a physical therapy program to build strength and flexibility in her knee joints. Now she practices yoga, dances, works out with a personal trainer, walks on a treadmill, rides her stationary bike and plays with her five young grandchildren. Her legs are no longer bowed and she has tremendous flexibility in both knees.

“This surgery has given me my life back and I am just so grateful,” she says. “I had such a good experience and I would recommend it to anybody.”

Physical Therapy Equals Lasting Success

Physical therapy is integral to the long-term success of your knee replacement. “As evidenced by Mrs. Rodney, the sooner we get you moving, the sooner you recover,” says Dr. Fricka. “There’s no question that you can have an excellent surgeon, but if you do not do the physical therapy and the exercises after the knee replacement, the result will be compromised.”

Typically patients work with a physical therapist at their house during the first few weeks following surgery, then participate in outpatient physical therapy for an additional two to four weeks.

Following physical therapy, advises Dr. Fricka, “It’s important to take up some form of exercise, whether it’s exercising on a bike, in a pool or on an elliptical trainer to maintain your knees and allow them to last for 15 or 20 years.”

For more information about Inova Joint Replacement Center, visit www.inova.org/joint-replacement