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Don’t Wait for Knee Replacement


Bob Yurcho walked bowlegged on purpose. He altered his gait to relieve the excruciating pain he felt in both knees. “My wife said I walked like an old man, and I felt like an old man,” says Yurcho of Oneida. But at age 55, Yurcho is far from over-the-hill.

Under the care of Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) orthopedic surgeon Joseph Horton, MD, with Lehigh Valley Physician Group Orthopedics–Health & Wellness Center, Yurcho received nonsurgical treatments to relieve his pain, which was caused by arthritis. But the pain persisted.

At work – where he stands on a cement floor for hours at a time – Yurcho fought through the discomfort, which also hampered his active lifestyle outside work. Then came the final straw. “Walking my dog wasn’t even fun anymore,” he says. That’s when Yurcho decided to have bilateral (double) knee replacement surgery from Horton.

“He made the decision at the right time,” Horton says. “I’m disappointed when people see me three years too late because I know we could have helped them sooner.”

Here are reasons to see an orthopedic surgeon soon if you’re experiencing knee pain:

  • Pain can snowball into other health problems. Knee pain causes inactivity, which causes weight gain, which can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
  • Knee replacement is just one treatment option. Nonsurgical treatments – like cortisone shots and physical therapy – may effectively relieve pain.
  • Knee replacement is effective. “More than 90 percent of patients are satisfied with the results,” Horton says.
  • The longer you wait, the harder it is to recover after surgery. When pain leads to inactivity, the muscles in your legs weaken. It then takes longer to strengthen them after surgery. That’s why it’s smart to receive physical therapy before knee replacement. “Two sessions before surgery have shown to reduce the amount of care people need after surgery by 29 percent,” says physical therapist Shai Post with the Health & Wellness Center at Hazleton.
  • The replacement should last 15 to 20 years. By following up with your orthopedic surgeon every two years, problems with your replacement can be detected and corrected when they’re minor.
  • You won’t be laid up for long. After surgery, you’ll be walking with assistance the same day. Although everyone recuperates differently, most people are able to walk comfortably in six weeks.

Yurcho received inpatient rehabilitation in Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton’s Gunderson Rehabilitation Center for one week. Under the supervision of skilled rehabilitation professionals, he performed exercises to strengthen his legs, increase range of motion in his knees and regain the confidence to return home. He then transitioned to outpatient rehabilitation from Post and her colleague, physical therapy assistant Ken Wenner. Their care helped Yurcho increase flexibility and strength, and progress from using a walker to no device at all.

Staying motivated is the key to success, because the exercises you do with a physical therapist will help maximize your outcome. “When you do rehab exercises at home as directed, you progress even faster,” Wenner says.

After seven weeks, Yurcho wanted to stay motivated despite the icy winter weather. So he visited his sister in Florida, enhancing the rehab he received in Hazleton with outdoor activity. “I went swimming, walking and bike riding every day,” he says. “I knew what I had to do to get better, and I did it.”

A few months after surgery, Yurcho is living an active lifestyle, which once again includes enjoyable walks with his dog. Twenty-five pounds lighter, he is confident he made the right decision to undergo knee replacement. “From the hospital, to the rehabilitation center, to the Health & Wellness Center, everyone who cared for me was excellent,” he says. “I would do it again tomorrow.”