Today, with sunshine and temps in the fifties here in Green Bay, I couldn't resist taking a little spin on my bike outdoors. It was my first venture out on the open road after total knee replacement (TKR) surgery Oct. 7, and it was a pretty shaky outing. But if there is one thing I'm learning about rehabilitating my knee, it's to be patient.
Prior to my surgery, I did a bit of Web searching to find out how other avid cyclists have fared after TKR. I came across two good examples, both of whom I tracked down to get some more information.
One of these gents is Joe Bousquet, who I first learned about by reading his entries about his TKR surgery and recovery on the cycling Web site "Crazy Guy on a Bike." Joe, who had TKR in June of 2005, was able to do a 15-mile ride with his wife on a tandem about seven weeks after his surgery. You can read about it here.
Joe says he had planned on doing a longer tour that summer, but had to call it off because his rehab went slower than expected. But he tells me that by the next summer, he, his knee, and his wife were all ready to do a 300-mile tour, but foul weather caused them to cancel. Still, his recovery was fine by then, and today, Bousquet says his artificial knee does not bother him at all while cycling (and feels fine off the bike as well), though he keeps to a relatively higher cadence (at least 60 rpms) on climbs.
"The knee is a non-issue - I seldom even think about it," Bousquet said via email. "Riding is no problem."
In 2007, Bousquet did a 400-plus mile, multi-day tour in the Appalachians, and says his knee did fine, except a couple of times when he tried grinding a bigger gear. "Spinning is the only way to go," Bousquet states.
Another rider with a total knee that I tracked down via the Web is Ron Waller, a cycling coach who lives in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. It's been about 10 years since Waller had his TKR, and he now does big mileage (9,000 the last full year). But Waller, who I talked to via phone recently, says that he was conservative when he got back on a road bike. He could do a 40 mile ride three or four months after surgery, but says it would be about four years before he did much in the way of sprints or harder efforts on climbs. "I was concerned about pushing the implant too hard," he says. "I was probably conservative."
Today, Waller says that rehab on a bike after TKR surgery should be done slowly, not pushing things too hard to reach a magic number. He does not recommend using a power meter in the recovery process to test how many watts you can crank out before the knee starts to hurt. "Start slow and work your way back," he says. "You don't want to rush things."
So even though my knee felt pretty rickety this first day back on the open road , I'm not worried about my progress. I've learned from others that full recovery can take a while. Actually, I probably should not have been out there today, as my range of motion is still pretty limited (roughly 100 to 105 on the bend) but it was a beautiful afternoon, and I figured what's the difference between 20 minutes on the trainer in the basement, or 15 minutes cruising super slow in my neighborhood. Besides, I do live in Green Bay--if I wait another week to get back on the open road, I might need a dog sled, not a bike.
As I'm finding out--getting back on a bike after TKR is a matter of testing your limits, not pushing things too far, and remaining patient. And while getting back on the bike is a great feeling, I'm also starting to feel the benefits the artificial knee can bring off the bike, like being able to stand for longer periods of time without that old "bone-on-bone" pain. Better function off the bike, after all, was the main reason I got the surgery.