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Runner finds successful treatments for chronic knee pain

Cynthia Brown loved running. She started running in her 20s and liked to run along the Seattle waterfront during her lunch break. She ran in races, including a few marathons. For 35 years, the Seattle paralegal ran, usually a couple miles a day.

Then, 4 years ago, a bunion on her left foot started causing her constant pain, and she noticed a twinge of knee pain while she was running. She had surgery to remove the bunion, but her knee pain continued and she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. The protective, shock-absorbing cartilage in her knee had worn down and her bones were rubbing against each other. Ouch!

Buying time before knee replacement

Cynthia met with Kaiser Permanente orthopedic surgeon Joseph Whatley, MD, who told her she’d eventually need a total knee replacement. But there was a downside to having the surgery. She was 56 and artificial joints only last 15 to 20 years. If she had a knee replacement right away, she could need a second one down the road.

Instead, Cynthia and Dr. Whatley decided to try other treatment options to delay the surgery as long as possible. Over the next 3 years, Cynthia had minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery and cortisone shots. She wore a custom brace and iced her knee to help control swelling. Each treatment worked for a while, then the pain came back.

In 2018, Cynthia’s knee was swelling constantly, and she couldn’t walk more than half a block before it seized up. The pain was terrible, and she and Dr. Whatley decided it was time for a total knee replacement.

Joint replacement class is empowering experience

Cynthia and her husband, Ben, attended a joint replacement class offered by Kaiser Permanente, where specialists explained the entire process — from surgery to post-op care to making sure Cynthia had everything she needed at home.

“I felt so empowered, so armed with knowledge,” Cynthia says. “The class covered everything. It really helped me get organized and stay calm.”

Support and hard work speed recovery

Cynthia had a total knee replacement at Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Campus in Seattle in November 2018. She describes it as “the best medical experience I ever had. I received phenomenal care every step of the way.”

She went home the same day, but stayed in contact with Sarah Lee, RN, a nurse in Dr. Whatley’s office. “Sarah was right there for me,” Cynthia says. “She was so helpful, medically and emotionally.”

Two days after surgery, a physical therapist visited Cynthia at home and gave her exercises for her new knee. “Dr. Whatley told me moving was critical, especially the first couple of weeks. I had to move, even if it hurt.”

It did hurt, of course, but she did the exercises anyway, 3 times a day. “I howled and yelled,” Cynthia admits, “but I knew I was doing the right thing. And it paid off.”

She stopped taking pain medication within 2 weeks and was able to start driving again. Six weeks after surgery she was back to her barre classes to increase her strength and endurance. At 10 weeks she returned to work and was looking forward to hiking and gardening in the summer.

“My knee replacement totally changed my life,” Cynthia says. “I’m no longer in pain, and that’s huge.”

Tools for making well-informed decisions

When patients are facing a decision about a health care test or treatment, it’s important they know their options and the risks and benefits of each choice. Talking to their doctor is a good place to start. Also, Kaiser Permanente offers a wide variety of online videos and tools, with no out-of-pocket cost, to help patients make informed decisions. (Members are prompted to sign in to the secure member site.) Topics range from back care to breast cancer and from prostate health to weight management.

All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington or Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc.

© 2019 Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington