Post-Op Week 2-4, Physical Therapy and PWB

June 19, 2015

This post describes the period between my 2 week post-op visit on June 3 and my 4 week visit on June 17.  My visits are on Wednesdays, as was my surgery, so they correspond exactly with my week "anniversary" dates from the surgery.

I was told to begin partial weight bearing (PWB) but I still used the knee scooter almost all the time after coming home from my 2 week post-op on June 3, 2015.  That all changed when I went in for my first physical therapy (PT) session on June 9.  My orthopedic surgeon is part of a medical group in Reston, Virginia called Town Center Orthopaedic Associates.  It is an eight doctor group conveniently located in the same medical complex as our local hospital and ER, and in the same building as the outpatient surgery center where my surgery was done. Sharing the office suite with my orthopedic surgeon is the physical therapy facility, which is really nice because the therapists are part of the same practice, they have access to all the surgeon’s notes, and use protocols developed specifically by my surgeon.  Also, I was getting PT done here for my Achilles tear before I had the ATR, so I already knew and really liked my therapist, Chris Marino, DPT.

On June 9 I showed up for my PT evaluation by Chris. As I mentioned, we know each other.  He took a look at my wound, massaged it a bit with the boot off, and did some basic strength tests.  He looked at the scooter and told me that he never wanted to see it again, that I was done with it, and the we were going to start PWB immediately.  To that end, I put the boot back on, held on to the handlebars of the scooter, and walked across the room holding on to the scooter like a walker.  It felt funky in my right foot and hurt a little bit, but I was walking.  Chris explained that my protocol called for PWB and some basic flexibility during weeks 2-4.

So I started my PT - twice a week.  During this week 2 to week 4 I mainly did flexibility but also some strengthening of the unaffected part of my leg.  I used a BAPS board, picked up marbles with my toes, did seated knee lifts, had my surgery site pretty vigorously massaged. This is a pretty aggressive protocol but I really enjoyed the sessions.  One thing I was seriously warned about by my doctor was not to lift my right foot past 90 degrees of "neutral".  I was still in the boot with two heel lifts so my basic position was slightly toes down.  Man, did it hurt the first time Chris gently flexed forefoot up just a little bit to make my foot neutral at 90 degrees, but after a week I was doing it on my own.

Physical therapy is great.  I also started riding the exercise bike in the boot.  This was great because I had not been getting any exercise.  Chris cleared me to ride the bike as much as I wanted, so on Saturday I went to the gym and rode the bike trainer for half an hour.  I was still getting pain when I didn’t elevate my foot occasionally, so I found the recumbent bike trainer was much better since my feet are naturally elevated on that machine.

My PWB increased dramatically over these two weeks, and by week 3 post-op I was PWB to the extent that I was only using one crutch at home, and when walking with two crutches I was basically walking in the boot and just balancing and taking a little weight off with the crutche. This was progress over those first two weeks.  And yes, I stopped using the knee scooter completely.  I did not consciously increase the proportion of weight on my affected foot, but I found that I unintentionally used it more and more as the pain went away.

Also - I had been using some light aluminum underarm crutches that they gave me at the hospital, but they were very uncomfortable and I found them difficult to use. I went online to a place called "DME Direct" and I spent about USD 80.00 on a nice pair of forearm crutches - fully adjustable with spring tips.  What a difference these made!  No more pain in the armpits, and the spring tips do a great job of absorbing shock. I strongly recommend them - just like I strongly recommend the knee scooter for the period when you are non weight-bearing (NWB).


June 3, 2015 - Second Post-Op Visit and Stitches Out!

June 19, 2015

Between my initial Post-Op wound check visit on May 26 and the second one on June 3 I stayed home, non weight-bearing, with my legs elevated as much as possible.  I stayed in my boot except for my daily sessions with the vaso pump on my lower legs. I scooted around the house on my knee scooter and occasionally on crutches. Nothing too exciting happened during the week, but being non-weight bearing was becoming a major inconvenience.  I really didn’t have any pain during this week - obviously the area with the stitches was still quite tender and I had to be careful to keep pressure off of it when my legs were up.

One thing I want to mention is how significant it is to pick the correct sock to wear with you boot.  I have a tall Aircast boot with two air bladders and a built in pump. It has a foam liner which gets pretty gamey. I tried using boot liners made of synthetic wicking fiber (Coolmax) but they were uncomfortable and difficult to put on and take off.  On Amazon I found socks made by the same company as my boot, Aircast, called "Aircast sock liners for Aircast Walkers".  This is the greatest purchase ever.  The socks are oversized so they don’t squeeze the surgery site when putting them on and taking them off - they are also soft and fluffy. My foot is so comfortable that I don’t even want to take the boot off!

On June 3 I returned to my Orthopedist, Dr. Kartelian. His Physician Extender, Tori, removed my bandage and wound dressing and told me that it looked great - no sign of infection and good healing - my stitches were coming out today!  She put on gloves and took a little scalpel and hemostat and I just heard a little snipping, very tiny pinching sensation but no real pain, and the stitches were out in a flash.

Dr. Kartelian did the Thompson test and I am told it showed that my Achilles was functioning completely normally. Tori put about 5 "Steri-Strips" over the wound site where the stitches had been. These are like butterfly closures. She said that they might stay on for a day or they might stay on for weeks, just leave them on and let them come off on their own.

Ah - I was cleared to go home and shower!  So happy about that, as I had been taking "bird baths" for a couple of weeks and I was starting to smell more like a goat than usual. Dr. K told me to make physical therapy appointments and said that I could go partial weight bearing as long as it didn’t hurt. I was told to remain on two crutches but that I could put partial weight on foot in the boot as long as there was no significant pain.

So that’s it - I was a new man - partial weight bearing!  PWB!  As I left the office I very gingerly used my booted foot not to really bear weight, but to just catch my balance as I walked on the crutches - what a difference in mobility!  I was ready to start physical therapy and the road to recovery. My next appointment with the doctor was scheduled in two weeks.


May 21-May 26 2015 - The week immediately following surgery

June 17, 2015

Plantarflexion splint and knee walker - got me through the first six days post surgery
I awoke the morning after my surgery on Thursday May 21. I still had the cast/bandage on my right foot with the toes pointed down. My toes were still numb and the nerve block was still clearly in effect from the afternoon before.  I had prepared a bedroom on the main floor of my house in what is normally an office, since my wife and I have our bedroom up a full flight of stairs.  There is also a bathroom on the same floor as my makeshift "bedroom". I had positioned the knee scooter and the crutches next to my bed and sure enough, I had to wake up to pee the previous night, and it was fairly simple to just swing my knee from the bed to the scooter, scoot a couple of short steps to the bathroom, and I could even manage the act of urination while still on the scooter!

The morning of May 21 (the day after surgery) I got out of bed and scooted right over to my power recliner and just settled in.  My toes were quite swollen, so much so that I considered calling the doctor, but as soon as I got my foot up and put a little ice above the bandage I was fine.

About 1500 that afternoon, pretty much exactly 24 hours after my nerve block was administered, it wore off.  The tingling in my toes which had been so annoying disappeared, and I could now feel sensitivity around my stitches and had to make sure to keep my pressure off of that area.  I accomplished this by having the recliner footrest up with a pillow on top, then I just rolled my leg from side to side to keep pressure off the stitches.  The pain was quite manageable - the Vicodin which I had been eating like candy before the surgery was totally unnecessary now and even as I write this, a month after my surgery, I have not felt the need to take a single narcotic pain reliever since the surgery.  A couple of times I have taken two extra strength Tylenol but that is it - no severe pain at all.

So I did not go back to work for that first week and I remained non-weight bearing.  After a couple of days of having my wife bring me my meals, I decided to venture into the kitchen, which required going up two stairs.  Unfortunately, while I had practiced on the crutches before surgery, I did not practice going up and down stairs.  It is harder than it looks.  So the day after my surgery with my wife helping I got off the knee scooter and up on to the crutches - they are basic aluminum underarm crutches that I had gotten from the hospital.  With my wife at the top of the two small stairs I hopped up with one foot to the first step and lost my balance backwards.  I fell back but I knew I could not put any weight on my right leg so I just let myself crash onto my right elbow.  It was a spectacular crash and I severely bruised the elbow but thank God I did not put my foot down and rerupture the Achilles.  Lesson learned. I got back up and with my weight positioned forward managed to hop up the stairs and join my wife in the kitchen for dinner.

The rest of the week was just ice, rest, elevation. I went in for my first follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon on Tuesday May 26, six days after surgery.