Balancing Act: It’s a Bumpy Road to Recovery

An outing to the Quad City Botanical Center lifted Susan’s spirits while providing a good place to practice walking on somewhat uneven ground.

Part 6:

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Balancing Act: It’s a Bumpy Road to Recovery

By Susan Flansburg, ORA Orthopedics Hip Replacement Patient

In Part 6, every day Susan gets stronger, but setbacks and accidents do happen!

Susan Flansburg, 60, Davenport, IA, is a vibrant, active writer, and grandmother who has suffered the pain of osteoarthritis. Patients facing hip replacement surgery have questions. Susan was gracious to allow ORA to follow her journey that began with excruciating pain through full recovery after her hip replacement. This is a seven-part series.

The thing about surgery – any surgery – is that it takes time to recover. You’ve undergone major physical trauma from which your body has to heal. Go into it knowing and accepting that, and you’ll do fine.

Patience is required, though, if you want any peace of mind.

Sadly, I didn’t have much. Nevertheless, time passed, PT was accomplished, and I continued to get better…until I twisted my leg.

It happened courtesy of the cats (yep, the very critters I recommend for your convalescence). In their enthusiasm for everything, they had managed to knock a broom over. I neither heard the clatter nor saw the broom.

My left, good foot caught the handle and down I went on the surgical leg.

I didn’t actually fall, but I did land hard and knew, right away, I’d pay for it. I could only hope that the fall didn’t cause any damage. I kept my worries at bay till the next morning when I could see Emily, my PT.

She manipulated my hip and pronounced her observation. No damage, just swelling and pain that would be gone – at least from the new injury – in a week.

I was a bit grumpy about it, but also exceedingly glad to not have new damage.

As I settled into the new normal, I began to see the balance required between not overdoing it and doing enough. That is, you have to do enough walking and exercising and standing to make progress. But if you overdo it, you can actually impede your progress.

“I tripped over a broom the cats knocked over – downside of having cats. Landed hard on surgical leg. Hurts horribly, leaning heavily on cane…guess this was one of the “surprises” Emily warned me I’d have. She said, ‘You can’t plan for everything.’” (Susan’s Journal)

Having a good PT on your team is crucial. Emily really guided me to push myself just enough and not too much. My personality kept goading me to go farther, and when I did, the swelling and pain increased.

On the other hand, the main consequence was just restless sleep (and maybe a few cross words with Saint Alan). Often, the overall gains would outweigh the immediate discomfort.

To rebuild strength, Susan rode a stationary bike at home and at Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

Getting back to pre-surgery normal required that I gradually add what had been normal movement beforehand. Taking steps using every other foot, for instance, happened gradually until I almost couldn’t remember being unable to do it.

Of course, I started too early, but it was entirely accidental. I would just forget and take a step up with my surgical leg. Ouch!!! We began working on it at PT, and I simply started doing it more at home. Eventually I did it naturally and without pain, all the way up and down my 163 stairs. (Okay, maybe I don’t have that many. Sure seemed like it a few weeks back, though.)

Tips

  • * Learn to know the difference between pain and discomfort. Pain is sharp and not ignorable and calls for medication. Discomfort is annoying but livable without medication. To help reduce discomfort, elevate your leg. Stretch and walk and do the prescribed exercises to promote healing and therefore reduce pain.
  • If you have a hard time sleeping, get up, and walk for a minute. This will help calm your muscles and you’ll be better able to relax and sleep.
  • Take a cushion with you in the car to elevate yourself and keep pressure off your hip. Take the cushion into restaurants with you, and ask for a chair with arms (or a booth) so you can brace yourself as you sit or stand. You might feel goofy doing it, but it beats the pain and/or discomfort you’ll feel otherwise!
  • Get up frequently. Don’t sit for more than half hour at a stretch. Just explain you need to stand. People understand.
  • In bed, be patient with your surgical side. At first it will be too swollen to lie on, but eventually you’ll be able to sleep on your side in comfort. To sleep on your other side, surgical leg on top, keep a pillow between your legs.
  • Squeeze your glutes while you walk, always. It helps stabilize your gait and enhances your leg strength.
  • Loose-fitting yoga pants are a lifesaver. They don’t look too bad, especially under long tops that help hide your still-asymmetrical hips. I looked almost normal dressed this way. 

Up Next: “Every Day is a New Joy!”  From putting on her own socks to sleeping better, practicing yoga and shaving her legs, Susan is back to what she enjoys about life after three months. Read more in her final installment.