I am an athlete with serious knee arthritis, will I ever play sports again?
I am desperate for any advice that you can shoot my way.
Background: I am a 37 yr old woman who is statistically young for the level of Grade (IV) degenerative joint disease in my knees. I have been a serious tennis player and aggressive athlete most my life. Let me be clearer... it was my life.
In July '08 I finally agreed to have arthroscopic surgery done on my right knee by a top doctor. As I was extremely fit, I expected to run out of surgery, but that did not happen. My doctor, besides noticing severe grade IV degenerative change on the medial and patella joint compartments, cleaning/shaving massive bone, spurs, cartilage, had to do a partial meniscectomy due to a serious tear.
After this surgery I was in bad shape. I NEVER regained the ability to run. I have a strange limp, hop thing now when I try to run/light jog. Also my knee pain has been ten times the level it was before this surgery. Desperate to get my ability back to run, I was completely dedicated to physical therapy. But the pain, the loss of movement, and the limping never went away. I feel like this surgery wrecked my life as I was in much better knee shape before this procedure. I can't even do the elliptical machine now and the only way I can get my cardio is a painful bike ride or in the pool. I am depressed I will never play a game of tennis again. Anybody hear of the ability to run lost after an operation like this?
UPDATE: I just had my second arthroscopic surgery done last week in Dec '09 as a desperation maneuver to reduce pain and have a new Dr see what was going on. He thinks I should get a High Tibal Osteotomy as soon as possible as my bone on bone is extremely severe and my age makes me too young to qualify for a TKR. But I am worried that I will never do any sports again in my life if I do this procedure. I am especially scared after what feels like a failure after July '08's op. Any younger sporty patients have this procedure out there, and how is your activity level post surgery?
Last edited by valentino2003; 12-27-2009 at 07:07 PM.
Re: I am an athlete with serious knee arthritis, will I ever play sports again?
Hey There Valentio2003, I am very sorry to hear that you are dealing with this. I had my first knee scope when I was 38 years old and the OS was blown away with the severity of my patella arthritis (I was stage IV back then). I was also an athlete (running, competitive in-line skating, biking, hiking, etc....). Like you, movement was my life. I was able to beat the odds for 7 years and resume MOST of my activities and maintain the intensity. I DIDN’T have the meniscus issues that you have, which makes your situation different than mine. However, my R knee started locking up on me about 6 months after that scope. It would come and go over the years with this past year (having had L ankle surgery in March 2009…putting all of my weight on my R leg) having my R knee lock up on me about 20 times a day. It was awful while trying to deal with my L ankle when my R knee would lock and stay locked for hours.
I’m curious, why did you have the first knee scope done in the first place? I understand that you feel like you’re worse off having had the first scope done to begin with…but what were your symptoms leading up to the first scope? You never mentioned what led you to have the first surgery.
Unfortunately at age 45 (almost 46), I am rehabbing from 2 knee scopes (one in September, 2009 on my R knee and one in November, 2009 on my L knee) knowing that a patella-femoral joint replacement is in my immediate future. (My L knee NEVER gave me problems till I had the ankle injury…then it was a domino effect….everything came crashing down). Oh, by the way, my OS removed a ˝ inch by ˝ inch floating bone spur from my R knee that was lodged under my patella next to the lateral femoral condyle. It is HUGE!! INSANE!! That explained all the locking over the years! Currently, the pain in my L knee is horrible and the only thing I can do 2 months from my L knee scope to slightly elevate my heart rate is deep water skiing. I can't bike or do deep water running...or anything that really bends my knees....they aren't ready for it...( I just returned from a snow-shoe mini vacation and I’m paying for it big-time as I type this). Like you, I have spurring all over my joint, I have a divot in my medial femoral condyle on my L knee and both of my patella’s track laterally, which didn’t make me a good candidate for the procedure that you are talking about. My meniscus are pristine, which make me a candidate for the patella-femoral replacement (that has a lot of complications).
I don’t really know much about a High Tibial Osteotomy but I do know that it’s a major surgery with a lengthy rehab (and more difficult than recovering from TKR) of a year or more. There is a REALLY GOOD knee website out there…but I can’t post it here. If I were you, I’d seek out a few opinions from other surgeons (something I am doing for my own situation).
I talked a lot...but I hope you found some of this info helpful. I beat the odds for 7 years...but in looking back I wish I would have listened to my OS and gave up some of my intensity...I think I'd be more mobile (with daily activities...less pain) now if I would have "chilled out" back then. HANG IN THERE!
Let Me Walk!
Re: I am an athlete with serious knee arthritis, will I ever play sports again?
Hi there, it sounds like I'm in a very similar situation to you. I'm am 36 and just had my 3rd knee scope done for medial joint line pain and was told I should get an opening wedge HTO soon. Like you I have competed in racquet sports for years now. My initial injury happened during a racquetball match in 2004 with a torn MCL, medial & lateral meniscus. I rehabbed for 2 months and let the MCL heal up then had the scope done to address the meniscus problems. The lateral side was just a very small flap tear, but the medial side was a large messed up bucket handle tear that was removed. Unfortunately the 1st surgeon who did my surgery never got the medial meniscus trimmed down to a stable border. I had to go back in 8 months later to have it trimmed down again. Finally after 2 scopes and over a year of rehabbing I was able to run again and play sports. The problem was that I had an enormous amount of meniscus removed from the 2 surgeries and my knee never felt great again. I decided to stop playing competitive racquet sports after one season back from surgery. It killed me to stop playing a sport that I love and have competed in for 15 years, but I knew it was the smart thing to do for my knee. I decided to start competing in mountain bike racing. Cycling was something that I did for training only, but now it has become my fulltime thing. My knee was good since my last scope in 04 till about 1 year ago and it started to haunt me. It would hurt and swell up if I jogged with my dog or walked more than a mile, but absolutely fine on the bike. 6 months ago my knee blew up like a balloon after playing in a charity whiffleball tournament. I had pain, swelling, and instability. I knew at this point something had to be done. I rehabbed once again and was able to return to cycling, but only about 80-90% painfree. I saw a new surgeon that specializes in cartilage repair and avoiding knee replacement in young active patients. I went in expecting to have some kind of cartilage resurfacing procedure done, but the damage was too far gone and widespread on both my femur and tibia of the medial side. My arthritis was considered grade 3 (not quite as bad as yours) and the Dr recommended HTO to correct varus alignment. I guess when you're missing a good portion of your meniscus and you already have a varus alignment things deteriorate very quickly. Like you activity and sports are my life. I don't make a living playing sports, but I love to stay active and compete. For me I am willing to give up tennis and racquetball if it will prevent me from needing a total knee in my 40's. I have pretty much made cycling a fulltime thing for me and have accepted that it's the best sport for the life of my knee. My surgeon did tell me that I should be able to get rid of the painful symptoms I have with HTO, but I'm honestly not sure about returning to competitive impact sports like tennis, basketball, etc. That is something you would have to ask your Dr. I will be happy to be able to cycle competitively, walk my dog, and do the occasional trail run pain free. Unfortunately I'm also in a position that I cannot afford to get the HTO done anytime soon. The HTO will leave me non weightbearing for 6-10 weeks and I need to be on my feet. Of all things I'm actually an orthopedic sales rep and I'm in these type of cases every day. Maybe in a few years I will have built up the business enough and transition into a corporate role that will allow me to be off my feet long enough to get the surgery. I can tell you this since I am in the ortho field. This is a big operation and not one to be taken lightly. The recovery is very long, and for someone active like you and I, very frustrating. Try to do a lot of research on Dr's that do this operation and what their outcome is. You want someone that does this procedure regularly. If the alignment is over or under corrected the results will not be as good. As the above person stated there is a very good amount of information and websites you can find with more detailed info on HTO and other knee problems. As for your pain level being more now than before your scope, that can definitely happen. Even know the Dr did a lot of clean up work and smoothing down of things inside your knee you still have a mechanical alignment problem and relatively no cartilage left. Sorry for the long-winded response, but I feel your pain cause I'm in a similar situation. Best of luck.