What Does It Take To Come Back With Artificial Parts?

Here’s a question for a subset of our readership. This question is being posed by your faithful editor because he is facing the prospect of a hip replacement.  Assured by our capable and competent orthopedic surgeon that skiing and other athletic activities (not running or impact sports) are in the offing, we wonder how others have fared after getting a new shoulder, knee, or hip.

If you’ve had a joint replacement, please share what it was like to come back to your sports regimen? What was that first ski run like? How did you muster the gumption to give it a try? What did you do to prep? What helped? What hindered? What advice do you have for those facing replacements?

From what we’ve heard, joint replacements have become the most common surgery in North America. Since osteoarthritis seems to be the reason for that surgery and since OA is most likely found in older folks, we have a suspicion that a good proportion of our readers have been down that path.

Please share your thoughts in the Leave A Reply box below.

 

42 Comments

  1. Avatar Donald R MacKay says:

    I skied with you at Alta last winter. I had total knee replacement 4 years ago and have 250 ski days on it. The key to hip or knee replacement is what I call pre-hab. Prepare for the surgery as if you were preparing for an athletic event. Gain as much strength and flexibility as you are able. Go in strong; come out strong! I was back at work (age 76) full time in 10 days. Surgery in April and skied Alta in January. Post surgery, regaining flexibility is most important. Have a good PT and work hard.

    • Avatar John Worden says:

      I agree with Donald – the more you can do to prepare pre-surgery the better. I had a double total knee replacement last summer at 64 and skied Winter Park in February 2020 (pre covid). I worked my tail off in PT post surgery (do more reps, etc.), did a couple of half day pre trip warm up days at the local mountain and was ready to go. It helped that my surgeon and PT are both skiers and encouraged me to go for it. A ski buddy noted that I was skiing better than I had in years. Great snow at WP last year helped too!

    • Yep, I agree having had a hip replacement May 23, 2020 and am now playing 2 hours of pickleball, 20 mile bike rides, kayaking, etc. Make sure you get the anterior approach for hip replacement as that approach does Not cut the muscles so you heal much faster. I highly recommend Corin implants where they analyze what is best for your body. I have the go ahead to ski starting in January 2021 with blues & greens and black diamonds in March as they like 9 months of healing the bar into the thigh bone.

    • Avatar Jon Weisberg says:

      Don, I recall those runs and your excellent advice about pausing for at least 90 seconds so your body gets properly restored. Jon

    • Avatar Bruce Courtney says:

      Hi Donald,
      Thanks so much for you valuable advice. I am 60 years old and am having my total right knee replacement scheduled for this coming December 17th. This will be my fourth surgery on my right knee, but my first full replacement. I’ve been doing some research on my own, and have found that practically everyone tells me the exact same advice you’ve given.I was wondering if you would be willing to tell me what specific exercises and stretching movements helped you the most? I so admire you for your resolve, and determination to keep on living, and the courage to do the necessary things to make it possible. Thanks, Bruce Courtney

    • Agree 100%on the value of pre-hab!

  2. Having two knee relacements 3 years apart and seen several other seniors with joint replacements, the major issue is mental. A positive attitude is essential. That said,physical therapy before surgery will have the affected soft tissue in good shape which will be a help in post surgery therapy. Remember – “no pain, no gain”! You will hurt sometimes after a therapy session. As for returning to skiing, I did a little walking, then some easy wedge turns When realized I was not going to fall down I made some “Green” turns, then did more as my confidace grew.

  3. I had a partial knee replacement in July two years ago after a year off skis.. By November I was itching to go. It well well. Th key was to follow the physio-therapy and exercise regimes rigorously (still doing that now!). Swimming, cycling and walking were essential. The first runs were a delight, although I had to wait for nearly perfect conditions: a little powder on well groomed slopes. Hard snow and “golfballs” were avoided at all costs. A few runs at first, with careful attention to any new pain guided my way. Double-diamonds waited until February, but no big moguls! The second season was nearly back to normal, but no hard icy slopes. Fortunately the latter are rare where I ski.

  4. Avatar Stephen Clarke says:

    Hip replacement ~4 years ago, returned to western skiing last winter, finishing just a day before the CO resorts shut down due to Covid. Daily, rigorous sessions on the eliptical prior to trip really paid off, in terms of endurance and strength. Very happy with with how it went – I’m 68. Also, all new equipment made a big difference – focused on skiing “softly” vs up/down edge sets, plus the equipment made me feel up to date, vs being “that guy” on dated equipment.

  5. My two good ski buddies who I ski with in Tahoe had both hips done at separate times. They are now skiing like they are 30 with no issues at all. FYI.

  6. Avatar Cherry Adams says:

    Feels so much better to ski with my “new” knee than it did with my old one! Have fun…

  7. Avatar John Worden says:

    I agree with Donald – the more you can do to prepare pre-surgery the better. I had a double total knee replacement last summer at 64 and skied Winter Park in February 2020 (pre covid). I worked my tail off in PT post surgery (do more reps, etc.), did a couple of half day pre trip warm up days at the local mountain and was ready to go. It helped that my surgeon and PT are both skiers and encouraged me to go for it. A ski buddy noted that I was skiing better than I had in years. Great snow at WP last year helped too!

  8. Avatar Jack Murray says:

    In March I had my left knee replaced for the 4th time. As has been noted, work on strength and flexibility before surgery and listen to your PT after. I’ve worn a brace for the last 6-7 years for stability but I think I can do without it this season. Strengthen, strengthen & strengthen!

    • Hey Jack! I was wondering, did the left knees wear out due to skiing or other exercise? I had a total knee replacement done last July and skied last season beginning in November, but was wondering how long the knee might last as a once a week (or more) skier. My Doc said his understanding was the knee might last for fifteen years, but that was not for someone who skis. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

      • Tom,
        Have had both knees done-12/16 and 2/18.
        My doc said skiing was fine just no bumps.
        He only told me not to run for exercise and don’t jump out of the back of a pickup truck-yep, I’m an NC redneck!
        Pain free, stable turns are awesome!
        Have fun!

        • Avatar Tom Kauffmann says:

          Thanks, Brad. My problem is I do not want to stop skiing bumps! I know, probably too stubborn, but that’s me. I am currently exploring the “Bumps for Boomers/Ski for Life” strategies developed at Aspen and had planned to test them in the soft end-of-season snow last year, but Spring skiing was canceled in my areas due to COVID-19. Maybe this season. Thanks, again.

  9. I had a partial replacement on my right knee in my 60’s and a total on my left knee at 73 plus another adjustment on the full replacement due to a fall approximately two months after surgery. Never give up! Proper physical therapy, rehab training will bring you back to former skill levels by starting on easier terrain and regaining self confidence and then moving to more difficult conditions. I have improved my skills as a result!

  10. Avatar David Paisley says:

    Two knees replaced in 2016, January and March. Skied a month in February 2017 at Keystone. Got in at least 15 days. It was easier for me to ski than to play Pickleball. I also use a Ski Mojo to help support the muscles and knees. Google Ski Mojo. Have skied every year since my surgery. Planning on skiing again this year, my 71st year.

  11. Had partial knee replacement in September and went skiing in Switzerland for Christmas. Followed PT carefully and did not
    overdo it. That was three years ago and I am still skiing!
    80 on my next birthday!

  12. Avatar Stephen Draper says:

    I had my Right Hip replaced 4 years ago.
    All comments regarding pre op preparation are
    spot on ! Go in strong ! Post Op, Listen to what the
    PT folks tell you !
    Biking is my preferred off season activity. Rails to Trails
    are Great.
    I still do my post op PT exercise routine AM and PM every day.
    On snow I teach Snowboard and ski lessons at a ski school.
    No more big black bumps or glades, I try to avoid ice.

  13. Avatar Nancy Pitstick says:

    Had knees replaced 3 years apart in 2008 and 2011. 1) As has been said earlier, pre-hab is crucial to rapid recovery. 2) Don’t wait so long to have surgery that you have become severely debilitated. When skiing becomes work and no fun, git ‘er done. 3) Have a clear post-op goal. Fortunately, skiers and recreational athletes are usually highly motivated patients and are familiar with working thru discomfort of post-injury come-back. 4) From Day 1, get outdoors for portions of your rehab. Fresh air is restorative!

    My doc asked that I wait 4 mos after surgery before skiing. I hit the mtn on the mark and was accompanied by several ski buddies who were worried. My first turn was thrilling. It was the first time in 30 years that I didn’t have at least twinges of pain from that knee. I skied top to bottom non-stop, albeit on green runs, and beat them all, by minutes, to the lift!

    Not a day goes by, after 10 years, that I don’t marvel at my pain-free knees and thank my lucky stars that I had this technology available. My parents and grandparents did not and their quality of life was definitely impacted significantly. NO REGRETS!!!

  14. Avatar Michael Maginn says:

    Posted on behalf ofTom Weller
    What are the causes of joint deterioration?

    1. Trauma (accident)
    2. Repetitive and or chronic misuse (poor movement patterns over time)
    3. Weakness (strength is key to proper joint movement)
    4. Sitting too long (the fluid that lubricates the joint is a blood ultra-filtrate, movement restores this fluid, standing and merely shifting your weight from foot to foot restores the lubricating fluid)

    A chairlift story: A 60 some year old skier told me his story. He went to the Orthopedic Surgeon and the surgeon started describing knee replacement. The Surgeon said “But first I want you to be examined by a Physical Therapist”. After the Physical Therapist examined the skier, he said, “Mr Smith what do you do for a living?”. The skier replied that I am in construction. The Therapist responded, “You wear hi-top boots don’t you?”. The skier replied “Why Yes, I do, how did you know?”. The Therapist responded: “You have the ankles of a 3 year old and the function of your ankles has been passed onto your knees, which are a hinge joint, creating undue stress on them. I am going to give you a wobble board along with some exercises. If you do these exercises, in 3 months your knees will be fine.” The follow-up visit to the Surgeon, the Surgeon said that is why I sent you to the Therapist. I was not taught that in school. Kudos to the Surgeon. End of story, the skier corrected his knee problem without drugs or surgery, in fact he started fabricating wobble boards and handing them out along with instructions.

    As Mulder in XFiles says, “The Truth Is Out There” Look for it. Enjoy!

  15. Avatar Normand L Reynolds says:

    I broke my left tib/fib in 1973, and it was set with a bow to the inside. Years of walking wore out the joint, and I had a total replacement in “06 at age 62. The Doc, a skier, shimmed the knee so that it bent to the outside, and the bow in the shin brought it back in, so my hip, knee, and foot were all aligned for the first time in years. Three months after the operation I too my first tentative turns, and realized I was carving way better than before, to both sides! AND, no pain. Halfway down the first run I was tooling along around 40mph and couldn’t stop laughing. It’s been 14 years since then, and all is good. People said it wouldn’t last this long, but it has, and I have skied on it anywhere from 30 to 100 days per winter.

  16. Yvette Cardozo Yvette Cardozo says:

    It would be fantastic if Ampion finally got on the market. Four years ago, I joined a study for a new class of anti inflammatory. To join the study, I had to be diagnosed with bone on bone stage 4 arthritis. The treatment involved injections…not like cortisone which goes anywhere in the knee and lasts, maybe a month or two. These shots are X ray guided to the spot where the bones meet (where the cartilage use to be). I was in two studies over 18 months. At the start, it hurt to go up and down stairs and get up from a chair. Today, 4 years later, I can do both with pain free ease. The drug was on the verge of being approved when the FDA said the lst study wasn’t properly double blind. So they started again…and then the virus hit and everything stopped. This stuff is a game changer. I don’t know how long it will last for me but I’m still doing fine.

  17. Avatar Eileen Fishkin says:

    Be in the best shape as possible prior to surgery. Complete therapy. Range of motion is paramount. I had one total knee replacement in 2010. Second in 2012. A hip replacement in 2015. All surgeries in the spring so I could return to sking in December. Never had a problem. Attitude and motivation is key. I never worried about returning to skiing and adventure travel. The anterior method was relatively new when I had my hip replacement. My MD said he preferred the old method because one could be more certain of a good outcome, as well as the fact that as a skier I was in such good shape. 3 weeks of therapy and I was back in the gym, and had my life back! Good luck!

  18. Avatar Michael Cullivan says:

    I am a 70 year old male. I had both knees replaced in 2017 (April, July). I skied the following March (2018). I did some therapy prior to the surgery. I also followed what the doctor ordered for post-op rehab and also did not take it too fast. I got in full ski seasons for 2019 and 2020. I also ride a mountain bike in the off season. I would say that I ski about one to two days a week in season and 2 to 3 days a week with the mountain bike. I do not have any pain or discomfort in the knees. I have been told that my skiing has improved since the surgeries.

  19. As a retired physical therapist who is trying to ski at least 60 days each season, I really enjoyed reading this article and all the positive comments. I just have a few comments to add based on my experiences, mainly as a PT.

    The value of pre-op therapy for both strength and range of motion cannot be overstated. Patients with the most problem post-op seem to be those who have suffered the longest and those who went into surgery with less than optimal ROM of their knees. Unfortunately, a lot of pre-op PT is limited by insurance plans, which really puts the pre-hab in the hands of the patient to carry out at home or gym, under PT guidance/instruction

    When shopping for your MD or PT, make sure they understand your individual desires and needs post-op. The best is to find those folks who ski themselves, and understand the importance of skiing to your lifestyle. There are different prostheses that are sometimes, in some patients, better suited to skiing and other activities, so ask ahead of time.

    Be diligent about post-op PT, without over-doing it early on. Loved the comments from some who are still ding their home rehab months and years later. However, being aggressive too early can lead to swelling, poor wound healing, possible infection, and delayed motion and strength achievement.

    Off-season activity essential, especially good are biking, hiking, gym work.

    Listen to your surgeon and PT about return to activity. There is no “one schedule for all”.

    Good luck!

    • Avatar Cindy Pickens says:

      Thanks you for your comments regarding overdoing post op exercise. I had a TKR June 2018 followed by the second knee October 2018. Was in great shape prior to surgery. Post Op PT and exercise is important but I’m a warning about overdoing it. Ran into bilateral quadricep (patellar) tendonitis in both knees and then decreased strength due to the fine line between too much and too little exercise. Skied last year. Skiing was fine, getting on and off chairlifts a bit of an exercise in pain due to the deep flexion required of the knees. Looking forward to this ski season.

  20. There is probably a point where we really do need a knee or hip replacement. But, before we get there, why not consider other alternatives? Let’s examine ways to protect our knees and hips before they need to be replaced.

    There are many options, such as taking hyaluronic acid orally or having it injected directly into your joints. Also taking glucosamine. And how about those “drowned” raisins? Also preventative, at least for your knees, are the various knee braces. I wear knee braces not because I need them due to some injury, but simply just in case, to prevent too much stress of too much twisting of the knees in a fall. Why wait for an injury? Why not wear braces as a precaution?

    Also, it would be wise to use the Knee brand of ski bindings, which have shown that they can prevent ACL injuries. The Knee bindings are a good preventative measure.

    There are also more invasive alternatives to total replacement. For example, there is a stem-cell procedure that works for some but not for all. Less expensive than the stem-cell procedure is the PRP treatment, injecting Platelet Rich Plasma.

    Our Mountain High Snowsport Club in Portland, Oregon, has put together a 10-page booklet in which several of our members describe all the various options they have tried, from prevention to total replacement. Check it out on our website at:
    http://www.mthigh.org/Articles/Knee-Treatments.pdf

  21. Avatar Terri Burton-Wire says:

    I have not had any joint replacements, but am interested in reading the replies from everyone. I am a certified personal trainer with an additional certifications in senior fitness and corrective exercise. I have worked with clients that have had joint replacements, some do great and some can hardly move after their surgery. One should have sued her doctor for the bad knee replacement she received. I completely agree with doing pre-hab, you want your muscles as strong and flexible as possible prior to surgery. Also make sure you have a doctor and physical therapist that understands that you WILL be active afterwards. Stick with the rehab afterward, you should be exercising most days. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer to assist you with your recovery. The gym I work at also has a physical therapy office, which is great, it allows us to work together for a positive outcome. Make sure you also include balance training, this is very important to prevent falls, especially as you age. There was a study done on balance and aging. It showed that a younger person when forced out of balance will correct with a step in the direction of the perceived fall. When an older person is forced out of balance, they typically correct with a step forward or back, but not to the side. This is why elderly people break their hips, they don’t react to a lateral fall with a corrective step to the side. Make sure your balance training includes front/back, lateral, and twisting.

    • Bilateral knee replacement May 2016, a few days shy of my 60th birthday. (Both knees were victims of genetics and skiing.) Skied 6 months later, 30+ days each season since. I ski mostly off-groomed and avoid getting airborne.

      I’ll echo the call for prehab and rehab; my gym/PT setup is what Terri describes. My trainer and my PT worked together both before the surgery and after, and my rehab went smoothly and quickly. They and my surgeon understood my priority was to ski that winter. I bike and hike in the off-season and do a challenging pre-season ski fit class every fall.

      Kept the same boots but had them refitted. Had to throw away the orthotics in my gym shoes.

      Don’t forget that if you’ve been compensating for pain or injury, you’ll have to forget how. A trainer and a good instructor can help. After 30-plus years of ACL-deficient L knee, it took me a couple seasons to learn to trust that knee again. Solid right turns are a game-changer.

  22. Avatar Sherm White says:

    I have two new knees, one 10 years and one 1 yr. The keys are 1) finding a good surgeon who works with athletic, active people, And 2) wing religious about your rehab. In both cases, I had the replacement in August, and skied late November, with no real problems.
    Another key is not to wait too long to have the surgery. If the joint makes you starting to get inactive, you get weaker, and the recovery will be longer, plus you run the risk of damaging something else.
    I have friends who have been very happy with hip replacements, and they would give you the same advice.

  23. Avatar Sally Taylor says:

    I am a 78 yr old female. I had 1 knee replaced in 2008 and the other in 2016. I returned to skiing after 25 yrs this past winter. No problems & no pain. I did avoid the double black diamonds though.
    I can only reiterate what the others have said… pre & post therapy is so very important. Once I completed therapy , I continued on in Boot Camp classes. They gave me strength, flexibility, balance and great stretches. When I told my surgeon at a follow up appt. that I was doing some light jogging in the class he said “don’t tell anyone I said this but that’s just fine”.

  24. Avatar Lynn O'Neill-Davis says:

    I had double knee replacement a few years ago in May. January of the next year I was down hill skiing. I tried some cross country first to see how it felt, then surrounded by my ski patrol husband and his patrol cronies I took my first run. It was scary but all went well I took a few runs than built up each time I went. Now I am back to skiing 4-5 times a week with no pain it’s great.

  25. Avatar Kathleen Klage says:

    One more for the record…pre & post surgery PT is a must for quick recovery!
    When considering a Surgen, I recommend personal references from individuals who have had positive results and a Doc who has performed hundreds.
    At 68, my hip replacement was late August 2018. I was practicing Yoga 4 weeks later and on the slopes in Aspen in January 2019.

  26. Avatar Tom Lott Lott says:

    I had a hip replacement on August 9, 2019, and returned to skiing in Jan. 2020. All true about pre-surgery training. My surgeon in Park City is a ski team doc so I had confidence. He does not do anterior, the scar is actually on the side a bit. The muscle above the quad gave me trouble despite working out. At 73 strength training was important.

  27. In june 2017 I had a complete ankle replacement. Unlike a knee replacement with an ankle you have to wait 7-8 weeks before you have PT. Researching the PT is as important as the surgeon. I was skiing exactly 6 months after the operation. I did have to buy new boots to be able to get the foot on. I purchased Full Tilt boots that open to the front which made putting them on simple. My first 2 runs were slow and cautious. Then I headed to the bar.
    In july of this year I had a revision done on the ankle. Next week , 4 months after the surgery, I will start playing pickleball again.I expect to be skiing in Jan. The most important thing is to get the right PT, that knows how to do ankles. I am 70 years old and am looking forward to Jan 2021.

  28. I had hip replacement on July 20, 2020. Anterior operation done by Michael Alexiades at Hospital for Special Surgery with computer assist. Implants were made by DJO Surgical with a ceramic head. I was discharged the same day. Went home, slept for 3 hours and got up and made dinner using only a cane. I was walking every day thereafter. I was off the pain meds the next day and have healed . Hip is better than before. I will be skiing in December and I am nearly 80. I think recovery is due more to the skill of the surgeon and the fitment of the implants than how much exercise you do thereafter.

  29. I had a hip replacement in June, 2012 and skied in Feb., 2013. I did some research then and discovered that the anterior method was the best- I believe it is the standard now. I am now 88 and intend to ski again when the virus allows us , However, I am now battling a bad back and am in physical therapy to try to correct it.. My hip Dr. says that if I would have my other hip replaced my back problem would be taken care of. At 88 I am hesitant to have surgery – anyone have any thoughts???

  30. Looking for feedback about skiing agter a total shoulder replacement.

    • Sorry Carol, shoulders are the worst in that they have a 6 month recovery time. which sucks because your lower body wants to ski. you cannot be in a hurry to recover. you must closely follow your doctor’s and PTs instructions which is generally do nothing for the first 4-8 weeks, then active assisted range of motion for a few weeks followed by active range of motion on your own for 4 weeks. power training and aggressive strengthening don’t begin until4-5 months post surgery. my shoulder was done in Oct. ’14 and my first ski was corn snow in April ’15. good luck to you

  31. I am 70 and have rt. and lt. artificial hips. they are terrific. so just do it! I can still tele in the backcountry but am supposed to avoid jumps. I ski 80+ days a year in the bc and at ski areas. be in shape, have a surgeon who does a ton of hip replacements and understands your passion to ski. Dr. Steve Heil at Rocky Mtn. Orthopedic in G. Jct., Co. did my last one in 2017 and he plans for a “boring recovery” which it was. it is amazing how soon one can get back to mtn. biking and skiing. most of my bc skiing now is on AT gear, which stands for aging telemarker! oh, I have a ceramic ball in a space aged material lined cup.

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