If you want to get back to skiing, learn to love your physical therapy.

It took my expert knee replacement surgeon one hour to cut, saw, hammer and install each new knee. It took me a year to rehab them. I was astounded by how long it took.

Correspondent Harriet Wallis works it. The key to recovery is following through with your  physical therapy regimen. Credit: Harriet Wallis
Laurie O’Connor, friend of correspondent Harriet Wallis, works it. The key to recovery is following through with your physical therapy regimen.
Credit: Harriet Wallis

I was in good physical condition before surgery, and I had the mind set that I would bounce right back. I’m strong. I’m tough. I thought that a set of new knees would be something like taking my car in for an oil change. Drive in with old oil. Drive out with new oil and keep on rolling. I was incredibly wrong. The analogy didn’t work. Healing and rehab take time

The good news is: The body is a healing machine.

The bad news is: Lots of people slack off their physical therapy exercises as soon as they can get into the car and do their grocery shopping. They lose their motivation and unfortunately they don’t get full benefit of their new knees. They probably aren’t skiers. We skiers are motivated to get back to the sport we love.

Eight months after surgery I was back on the slopes – starting on the opening day of the season. I skied 93 days that year. EEEhaw! (During the winter before knee replacement, all I could do was skid down a bunny slope.)

Friends asked: “How long did it take to get used to artificial knees?

My response: “About six turns.” My new knees worked wonderfully.

Skiing is good exercise, but it’s not focused physical therapy. Continuing the prescribed exercises was vital. Now, two years later, I still do certain exercises. I believe that maintaining artificial knees is an ongoing process.

My new knees do have some minor disadvantages. I cannot squat with my butt down to my heels. Artificial knees aren’t designed to bend that far. Therefore I sit on a low stool while weeding the garden. And swimming laps confounded me because it took more strokes to get across the pool. I think that’s because metal is heavier than bone, so my legs are lower in the water. I had to find a new balance point for swimming.

The bottom line is this: When the surgeon is done, your work is just beginning. Do your rehab exercises with gusto – and I’ll see you on the slopes.

Note: This is a five-part series in which SeniorsSkiing.com’s correspondent Harriet Wallis describes her knee replacement journey with tips to guide you if you’re anticipating knee replacement. Part 1: Inspired by a ski patroller with artificial knees. Part 2: Research 101 – why and how to do it. Part 3: Interviewing surgeons and questions to ask. Part 4: How I found the right doctor for me. This is Part 5, the final segment of the series.



  1. scott Colesworthy says:

    Did you do both Knees at the same time? How long did it take until you could walk without crutches?

  2. Kristina Fanning says:

    Just read your TKR articles-wish I had been able to read them four years ago before I had my left knee replacement.I totally agree the hardest part of the journey is maintaining the physio programme,I am very glad that I did and still do as at 65 things don’t get easier.At present my husband and are skiing in Banff (visiting our son who is working there)our first trip across the pond,we have also skied in France and Austria this season and I am enjoying every minute.Greens and blues ,cruising only.Make sure you are 100% happy with your surgeon and trust them there is no going back!

  3. John Earl says:

    Dear Harriet

    Loved you attitude, article and acitivity. I am in my 80th year. I am recovering from my 2nd total knee. Had 1st one done back on June 15th 2016. On Nov. 1st (4 1/2 months later), I was back on the slopes at Killington where I ski and am an Ambassador. Much like yourself, it took only one or two turns to return me to Heaven. My wife and I also work with Adaptive Skiers. And again, like you, I picked a good surgeon who was also a skier and never doubted I would be skiing again. Over the two seasons following my 1st knee — up till April 25th of this year, I skied 154 days. Over the rest of the year(s), my wife and I swam, paddle boarded, kayaked and hiked with considerable, but tolerable discomfort my recently replaced knee was providing me. I write this as I grind into my 13th post-op day. Here’s to our passion along with the your sweet story that spilled from it. And a toast to mine — “Ski, Dance, Romance.

    Best wishes

    John Earl

  4. Anne Charlap says:

    scared-had my right knee replaced 3 years ago then a tear in my hip 2 years ago. Lucky me -have a disc that is no longer with me, but I will ski this year . level ii PSIA instructor. Any advice?

  5. I was not annavid skier before my surgery but want to give it a try. I am worried about falling on my new knee while learning to ski. Any thoughts or advice?

  6. My doc* said you can make it hurt but you can’t hurt it. The first night home I tripped and fell head first into my bathtub and really banged my knee. Also my head which needed stitches next day. It was as bad as any fall I’ve taken on skis in 50years. Yes it hurt but no it didn’t damage my knee. At all. I was skiing 6 months after tkr. Yes a bit timidly but having a great time. *btw other than this great comment my doc was a total jerk!

  7. Gabor Kesseru says:

    I’m on week 7 and just had Manipulation Under Anesthesia (MUA) because after 6 weeks I had not made enough progress. The doctor tore my scar tissues loose and bent me to 128 degrees. Unfortunately my quads had shrunk too much so I ended up with a significant muscle over-stretch pain that has not yet gone away. I’m still waiting for that morning when I get out of bed and take a step without pain. Slow going but I’m determined to make it. I can now do 107 degrees by myself and 112 with therapist pushing. 120 is my goal for this month.

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