Join us as we follow HSS athletic trainer Kara Federowicz through her journey of orthopedic surgery. This is the first installment of a three-part series discussing coming back from orthopedic surgery.
Regardless of the injury, condition and affected body part, orthopedic surgery is still challenging to recover from. Throughout my own experience with the tibial tubercle osteotomy I had earlier this year, I went through many ups and downs, both mentally and physically. My recovery process took about 12 weeks, and as you’ll see throughout this series, the journey really is what you make of it along the way.
So why would I go through all of this in the first place? Honestly, I had put this surgery off for quite some time. I’d been dealing with pain in my knee since being diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter, a common overuse injury, when I was 15 years old. I had a lateral release in 2008, which offered some relief but it did not last. However, I’ve always been a stubborn and adventurous person, and the next five years were filled with a figure show, triathlons, MANY spinning classes, Crossfit, five moves to new places, and five seasons of Penn State football.
I always tried to tough it out, but the pain got progressively worse, which brings us to this year and my ultimate decision to have surgery. As a certified athletic trainer here at Hospital for Special Surgery, I have the opportunity to work with the very best surgeons, physical therapists, sports performance staff and medical teams. I am under the treatment of Dr. Beth Shubin Stein: an amazing, powerful, and intelligent woman. Together we tried some conservative treatments including changing my workout routines, participating in physical therapy, and taking euflexxa shots. I even stopped working out completely, but still saw no results. I had pain just walking to and from work, which in Manhattan is 10 blocks (1/2 a mile). I felt extremely stiff when I tried to walk, standing up from the floor was painful, and you can forget about climbing stairs. We finally decided that surgery was the way to go.
My procedure took place in March 2013, and included a tibial tubercle transfer, lateral meniscal repair, lateral release repair, and DeNovo cartilage transplant.
The following weeks went something like this:
Week 1: Figuring out how to navigate my apartment with my brace, taking my pain medication, hanging out with my mom (what could be better), and receiving flowers, cards, cupcakes and phone calls.
Week 2: Now I was on my own. I filled the time eating all of the cupcakes, having visitors, starting to adapt to getting around NYC by cab, and trying to get a gym routine in place.
Week 3: My gym routine was all set, but I was wishing I had more cupcakes. My upper body workouts were making me sore. I spent a lot of time reading.
Week 4: By week 4 frustrations had officially set in. One especially difficult moment while I was trying to get around New York City in the rain with crutches left me in tears. I had no energy to make cupcakes, and spent quite a bit of time sleeping and watching back-to-back episodes of bad television.
As difficult as they were, I learned a lot about myself, my body, and my limits in those first four weeks. I also learned not to sweat the small stuff and not to take anything for granted. I had my first physical therapy appointment here at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center in week 6. No doubt about it, rehabilitation is hard work. I gained new perspective of how and why I do my job not only for my own rehabilitation, but for others as well.
In my next post, I’ll talk about putting yourself in the best mindset to stay motivated to get better, as well as how I managed to stay active despite not being able to use my leg for 12 weeks. Let’s get down to business: you can do it too!
Kara Federowicz is a certified athletic trainer at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Kara has a degree from Penn State in kinesiology, the scientific study of human movement. This material is adapted from the personal blog Kara kept to record her experiences throughout her recovery.