The diary of a knee replacement | Surgery, recovery and rehab
The diary of a knee replacement
Victoria Police veteran Sandii Greaves has had knee pain for as long as she can remember. What she only discovered recently is that she’s had osteoarthritis for just as long.
She had a full knee replacement earlier this year at the age of 48. In this blog, she talks about the shock of her osteoarthritis diagnosis, her rehab process, and how she’s feeling six months post-surgery.
How the knee pain started
Sandii grew up playing sport, focusing primarily on long-distance running and rep basketball.
“I grew up in a small country town. We just did sport – whatever was going, we all did it,” she explains.
Sandii remembers her knee always being sore, but her parents put it down to growing pains at the time.
She was just 16 when she had her first surgery in the form of an arthroscope and tendon transfer on her kneecap.
“I suppose it gave me a little bit of breathing space, but the surgery was quite brutal. Medicine’s come a long way since then.”
The shock of an osteoarthritis diagnosis
Five years ago, Sandii started seeing a surgeon to treat a tear in the meniscus.
“When he looked at the scans, he said, ‘yes, there's a slight tear here, but that's not the big issue. How long have you had OA for?’ I didn’t even know what he meant.”
After explaining osteoarthritis, the surgeon gave Sandii the bad news: not only did she have osteoarthritis, but her case was severe. “He said, ‘we would expect to see what we’re seeing in your knee in a 70- or 80-year-old’. It’s really, really rare at my age.”
Sandii puts her osteoarthritis down to genetics and remembers her father dealing with sore knees. His knee would also give away unexpectedly.
“You could be walking along and you get this shocking shooting pain through the knee. It literally brings you down and you just hit the deck because it's that bad.”
Biggest misconception about knee pain
While osteoarthritis can’t be cured, Sandii learned the pain can be managed by doing exercises to strengthen and condition the scaffolding around the knee.
“The tendons, ligaments, the hammies, the quads, they all need to be strengthened,” Sandii explained.
“Whereas for such a long time I thought I was doing the right thing by protecting my sore knee. But what that meant is that I was shielding those muscles – they basically weren’t working to the full extent that they should have been.”
A knee replacement in her 40s
At the end of 2021, Sandii’s surgeon said it was time for surgery – a decision he didn’t take lightly given her age. She had a knee replacement earlier this year, but her recovery hasn’t been straightforward.
“The first four to six weeks after surgery were brutal,” she says. “The pain wasn’t so bad but I just couldn't get it moving. I couldn't. And I felt frustrated.
Hardest part of the recovery process
Sandii wasn’t able to take the strong painkillers usually prescribed after knee surgery–she was either allergic to the ingredients or the painkillers would interfere with her regular epilepsy medication.
“The only strong medication I was allowed was Endone, but it really upset my stomach so I found it hard to take it consistently. I was pretty much left with ice therapy, panadol and Movalis as an anti inflammatory,” she says.
As another complication post-surgery, she fainted the first time the physio got her out of bed.
“I told the physio I wasn’t feeling great, but she told me I’d be fine. I thought, ‘I’ve got to be really positive about this’, so we started to do some steps. I did seven steps and I thought, ‘look at me go!’
“But then I could feel all the blood rushing to my head. The last thing I heard her say was ‘get behind her’ before I passed out.”
This happened again a couple of weeks later, and Sandii’s surgeon explained that this reaction is quite common after surgery.
“It’s not common enough that they need to warn people about it, but it’s not unheard of either.”
Most frustrating part of recovery
Six weeks after her operation, things weren’t going so well.
“I wasn’t able to bend my knee and things weren’t progressing like the doctor had hoped. They were talking about manipulating the knee under anaesthetic because it was too stiff to bend without incredible pain.”
Despite the pain, she was still up and about. She was able to go out for coffee, which put her in the firing line for unsolicited advice.
“You get random strangers who are suddenly experts on your condition and people ask you questions.
“They would tell me I should be able to do more than I was capable of, and it’s really hard to hear that without then explaining I can't take strong pain medication. I had to rely on ice therapy and panadol to get through, which meant that my pain level was quite high, all the time.”
Most important part of rehab
After surgery, a conversation with her myotherapist, Jordan, changed her post-surgery trajectory.
“He recommended RE3 and I came home and ordered the products straight away,” Sandii says. “It was a game changer for me because I couldn't take the strong medication. I bought two ice blankets so whenever one got too warm, I grabbed the other one and alternated.”
“Having the RE3 products suddenly gave me the ability to minimise the pain, which then meant I could focus more on the rehab and start doing the exercises.
“It made a massive difference to my rehab progress. I was using it constantly and started making small gains.
A career on the frontline
Despite her knee pain and osteoarthritis, Sandii spent 10 years with the Victorian Police Force.
“I guess I learned to hide the pain, or manage it maybe. Enough to pass the physical to get into the police at the age of 21.”
Her knee pain didn’t hold her back while she was with Victoria Police. She attributes this to running on adrenaline, being at peak fitness, and incorporating lots of difference exercises into her routine, like cycling, running, and water aerobics.
After surgery, her priorities shifted.
“The first time I could do a heel raise was a massive achievement,” she says.
Now, six months post-surgery, Sandii is feeling great. She pioneered the 365 Campaign earlier this year, along with David Kapay, restaurant owner and Executive Chef. They both committed to moving their bodies for at least 3.65 km every day for a year to raise funds for the Emergency Services Foundation.
“David and I have committed to walking, running, or bike riding at least 3.65km every day for 365 days with the aim to raise awareness of the mental health battles our emergency services face in the course of their work.”
Sandii has seen firsthand that emergency services work can take a severe toll on mental health and, with this campaign, she aims to boost awareness, reduce stigma, and raise funds to support the people on the frontline of protecting the community.
Hey Sandi, thanks so much for your story. I’m looking at a total left knee replacement sometime after March 2023 and am about to order the RE3 surgery pack to use now. I’m writing this sitting here with ice packs on both my knees after a day on my feet. My left knee structure has ‘collapsed’ and I now have a valgus knee that’s unstable. I still manage to walk 25-30kms each week and am doing exercises to strengthen my legs, hips and overall body. I sought advice off a great physio and am following a program to get me as strong as I can before surgery. I have to walk up/down stairs one step at a time, leading with my ‘good leg’ as i have lost capacity to walk stairs normally (for over a year now). Covid put the skids on surgery but am finally going ahead as am in pain most of the time. I appreciated your comment about the ‘unsolicited advice’ from others. I smile and wave as few people know how excruciating arthritis/degraded knees can be. I’m focusing on a great outcome from the surgery and this ice pack looks like a great addition to pre and post op. I’m 61 in a couple of months, I still work full time and for fun ride an adventure motorbike (a Triumph 900) it’s getting harder to get on and off with my knee as I can’t pivot anymore. I’ve got some great rides planned and need to get my knee sorted! A friend of mine (74 year old woman, rides a 1000 and has had both knees done. She rides regularly and has encouraged me to get on with it! I know a few people who will be keen to see how the RE3 works for me. Thanks again for your testimonial. Your thoughts have made my purchasing decision easy. Maura.