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What knee replacement patients can learn from Billie Jean King

30 Sep

During the 1970s, tennis star Billie Jean King was a shining star both on and off the tennis court. King won 39 Grand slam titles, including 20 at Wimbledon, and was a leading activist for social change and gender equality. One battle that King struggled to win for years was against her debilitating knee pain.

Today, double-knee implants have changed King’s life and she is back playing tennis again at age 67.

Double-knee replacement surgery was King’s eighth knee operation since her first at age 23 when she was No. 1 in the world. Despite her previous knee surgeries, King’s severe pain persisted.

“I got to the point I couldn’t even walk two blocks…My life was closing in on me,” King said in an interview with Washington Post. “Now I’m pain-free, if I want to play tennis or take a walk in the park. I’m going through this mindset change now. It’s amazing. My first knee-jerk reaction is ‘Oh, I can’t — oh, yes I can do that.’ I can go up and down stairs. I wouldn’t be able to do that a year ago.”

Before returning to tennis, King underwent a year of rehabilitation, working out for 2.5 hours, five days a week.

“Billie Jean King has made an exceptional recovery, but the intensity of her training and return to tennis is not something I recommend to patients with artificial knees,” warns Dr. Steven Louis, board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Hinsdale Orthopaedics. “New knees will eventually be able to endure most activities but activities that place significant stress on the knees should forever be avoided.”

Dr. Louis, who is among the first in Chicago to offer custom-designed total knee replacements, says commitment, patience and determination are essential to returning to any activity after knee surgery.

“It is important for patients to stay realistic about their expectations with knee replacements,” Dr. Louis says. “New knees won’t make you a super-athlete or enable you to do more than you could before you developed knee pain. Just because they are new, doesn’t make the knees invincible.”

After the surgery, patients will undergo physical therapy to regain strength and movement in the knee in order to walk. Patients will experience both more and less painful days in the months following surgery, but should experience a gradual improvement in functionality and decrease in pain, says Dr. Louis.

In accordance with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr. Louis recommends the following activities for knee-replacement patients wishing to resume exercising after physical therapy has concluded:
• Walking
• Swimming (typically allowed 6-8 weeks after surgery)
• Dancing
• Golfing (with spikeless shoes and a cart)
• Bicycling (on level surfaces)

Activities to avoid- any that put stress on the knees- include:
• Tennis
• Badminton
• Contact sports like football and baseball
• Racquetball
• Jumping
• Squats
• Down-hill skiing

More than 90 percent of patients who undergo total knee replacement experience a dramatic decrease in knee pain and a significant improvement in performing daily activities, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“Billie Jean demonstrates to us that life is too short to let pain keep you from being active,” says Dr. Louis. “Being proactive and not procrastinating to do something about your knee pain will contribute greatly to a faster recovery.”

If you’re experiencing knee pain and would like to speak with an experienced, board-certified orthopedic surgeon, please contact Dr. Louis by calling Sabina at 630-323-6116, ext. 7123.

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