- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: Knee-Jerk Reaction

Creaky knees are sending you a message. If you listen, you may be able to avoid surgery — and worse.

Knee Jerk

About 700,000 Americans will have their knees surgically replaced this year. By 2030, according to some estimates, that number will rise to almost 3.5 million, as a tsunami of Boomers give up on their creaky joints and go all in for the surgical fix. My Lovely Wife will not be one of these.

That’s not because she has the knees of a thirtysomething. In fact, MLW has been hobbling around now for 40 years on a right knee that defies all anatomical principles — orthopedists look at x-rays of her joint and just shake their heads. It is, we both agree, a very special knee.

In the summer of 1975, while dancing in an English pub, MLW was accidentally kicked in the back of the knee. Back home that fall, a surgeon cut her knee open and removed the entire meniscus. This was not an optimal solution, and in the years since MLW has taken up yoga and Feldenkrais to support her often achy knee. I should add that she’s tough as nails.

Just the other day, she bought a new bike at a shop near my office, so we ambled up the street to a local bistro for a bite to eat while we waited for fenders and such to be installed. It was about a three-block trip, but it’s no small matter to MLW’s right knee, which was creakier than usual due to a malfunctioning bicycle. Still, she uttered no complaints, we enjoyed our dinner, and shortly thereafter picked up her bike and pedaled home.

Knee Replacement Thoughts

I bring this up after discovering the latest argument against knee replacement — this time from researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden. They found that people who opted for knee replacement were more likely than folks who avoided the knife to suffer hip and vertebral fractures in the 10 years following their surgery. Apparently, those who received their artificial knees tended to believe that the new joint enabled them to behave like people who didn’t need new joints. In other words, they tended to overdo it a bit on the activity front.

That’s perfectly understandable, of course, especially given the promise of new mobility that comes attached to the whole knee-replacement hype. People are bound to get excited and do stuff against the advice of their aging hips and vertebra. I’m sure their surgeons send them off with warnings about listening to their bodies, but why should you have to face limitations when you’ve just shelled out a bunch of dough for a brand new appendage?

And, as MLW has often pointed out, if the whole thing is about listening to your body, why would you go under the knife in the first place? She’s been listening to her bum knee for decades now, understanding which motions and activities stress it out and which tend to soothe it. She’s learned how the brain communicates with all her joints and how you can reprogram it to allow for greater mobility. It’s no panacea; there are regular setbacks. But she and her knee have formed a kind of compact: As long as MLW continues to listen and learn, that bum knee will continue to support her.

Unless, of course, she’s dancing in an English pub. Then all bets are off.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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