A focus on physical therapy was the right solution for me
By David L.
When you think of severe knee injuries nowadays, images of football players and pro athletes often come to mind. However, I can tell you from personal—and very painful—experience that simply taking a misstep while coming down from a ladder can result in a knee injury as serious as anything you’ll see on the playing field.
I can also vouch for the fact that you can actually recover from such an injury—under the right circumstances—through physical therapy and without surgery. Here’s my story:
A freak accident
Earlier this year, in March, I was visiting my kids and grandkids in Montana. I was up on a ladder working on some lighting. As I was coming down, I slipped and my foot missed the bottom step. I landed hard on my heel, with my foot locked straight, and I fell backward.
I was rushed to an ER at a hospital in the nearest town; some x-rays were taken and I was fitted with an immobilizer on my leg. I’m retired from a career in the army, so I was able to stay with my family in Montana for another three weeks, hobbling around until I felt safe enough to travel back home to D.C.
Repairing my knee surgically would require a whole new ACL, extensive work on the other damaged structures, as well as many months of rehabilitation.
When I got back, I saw my primary care physician and had more x-rays taken and an MRI done at Walter Reed Medical Center. These images showed the full extent of damage I had done to my knee: a completely severed ACL, a torn PCL, damage to both the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus, AND an impact fracture of the tibial platform. Did I mention that it was a pretty serious injury?
Repairing my knee surgically would require a whole new ACL, extensive work on the other damaged structures, as well as many months of rehabilitation. In addition, a physician who lived down the street from me reminded me of the fact that there would also be no guarantee that such an involved procedure would result in a perfectly positive outcome.
An alternative solution
Given these circumstances, plus the fact that I couldn’t be scheduled for surgery for nearly another month, my better half started exploring possible solutions on our neighborhood LISTSERV. Before long, she saw more than a few individual stories about people having excellent results with Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine (WOSM) and its SMARTherapy centers.
So I went to their offices in Chevy Chase to ask some questions and to discuss my situation. They did an excellent job of explaining how things worked and scheduled an appointment for me two days later with Dr. Benjamin MacArthur. During my appointment, after reviewing the images that were taken at Walter Reed, Dr. MacArthur agreed with my primary care doc that I was a good candidate for bypassing surgery and going through just physical therapy to get my knee back into working condition. It made a lot of sense—I’m approaching 70, and won’t really need my knee for doing anything more strenuous than riding my bike and simply getting around.
I’m confident that my physical therapy program will get my knee back to 90% of the functionality I need.
After getting scheduled at the SMARTherapy center, I was set up with a therapist who specializes in knee rehabilitation. I’ve now seen him twice a week for about a month, with roughly another four weeks to go. Progress has been great—I’m confident that at this point, my physical therapy program will get my knee back to 90% of the functionality I need. And I’ve been able to avoid surgery and the extensive rehabilitation and recovery that go along with that.
My experience at SMARTherapy sessions has been fantastic as well. When I walk in the door and my therapist tells me to come back to the therapy tables, I can tell he’s watching me and already evaluating how I’m moving. So far we’ve been working primarily on strength-building exercises for the muscles around the knee. I’m up to about 11 different exercises now that I do at the center and at home as well.
One of the great things about my SMARTherapy sessions is that my therapist is dedicated 100% to me until my session is over. In the past, I’ve had experience with another physical therapy facility where you’re treated as if you’re in an assembly line; you’re handed off from one therapist to another during your session. At SMARTherapy, that never happens. The person I’m working with is watching me, critiquing me, and modifying how I’m performing my exercises during the entire session so that I get maximum benefit out of my time there.
Every aspect of my WOSM and SMARTherapy experience has been great. I haven’t seen a single downside so far.
Another plus is the direct communication that my therapist has with Dr. McArthur at WOSM. If I need to have a smaller brace, my therapist can contact Dr. McArthur, who’s in the same building, and I’ll have a prescription for it right away.
Overall I couldn’t be more pleased with how my program has gone. I’m already back to riding my bike. Soon I’ll be on track to get enough strength back to actually run if I wanted to. (I’ll probably take a pass on this.)
Every aspect of my WOSM and SMARTherapy experience has been great—the therapy program, the service I’ve received, and the physician engagement as well. I haven’t seen a single downside so far.
While I wish I hadn’t mangled my knee in the first place, I’m happy that I was able to avoid surgery—and report that physical therapy by itself can be a route to a successful recovery.