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Bird Brown: Getting outdoors is the best rehab routine

It’s always baffled me that there are so many different levels of physical therapy and different lengths of time for what seems to be the same surgery.

As a veteran and frequent flyer of the Orthopedic War, having endured nine surgeries, three of which involved replacing a joint (either full or partial), I feel like I’ve got a wealth of experience from which to speak.

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I understand there are many factors that go in to whether, and if so for how long, a patient who has been through orthopedic surgery goes through physical therapy. The severity of the injury and difficulty of the surgery, the age and physical fitness of the patient, and the type of insurance policy the patient carries are some examples of things that will influence the patient’s PT sessions.

For my first knee replacement surgery, a partial, I entered physical therapy only a few days after my surgery and went for about six weeks of sessions, three times per week, before I “graduated.” I was going through PT with a football coach who had the same surgery that I had and one of his players who was recuperating from an ACL tear.

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There were a few things different, but for the most part we all had similar recovery plans.

Several years later when it became necessary to have one of my hips replaced, I had a different doctor and a different hospital. With the exception of teaching me how to get in and out of a car before I even left the floor, there was no physical therapy prescribed.

Nothing. Nada.

Without any PT to worry about, less than 10 days after surgery I drove my wife and youngest son to the Northeast Regional Futsal Tournament in Atlantic City. I even sneaked out of the hospital the day after surgery — I’m sure there’s still an active Silver Alert looking for me.

Right before Christmas I had the latest round of my replacement tour with a full replacement of my other knee. Like the partial, I began PT when I got home from the hospital and have been going three times weekly since, surpassing the three-month mark right before the quarantine set in.

During my time in each of those physical therapy sessions I met many people who like me were working through their various recovery plans. I was always interested to find out what part was replaced, who the doctor was, and what their PT plan was so that I could compare them for my own entertainment.

What I found out was that there really is no specific factor that I could determine that had a stronger influence on the PT plan than any others, including doctors who prescribed different plans for different patients with the same replacement surgery.

The last few weeks of my PT work consisted of moving away from the stretches and things that I can do from the comfort of my home to working on machines (leg presses, leg lifts, elliptical, etc.) that I could transition to the gym to do on my own. The week before the curtain fell on this coronavirus thing, I had worked down to 1-2 sessions per week and was about to go to zero.

Then the governor closed the gyms.

Although I am a member, I wasn’t a regular at the local gym or anything. But now I had nowhere to go to continue my rehabilitation. I could go back to PT three times per week, but the point was to move to a more independent, individual plan.

So, with my luck run out on where to continue my rehab, I’m stuck in my house with the same four people that have been there 24/7 for the last two weeks, and I have two dogs that follow like a shadow wherever I go — what was I to do?

Well, spring has sprung so the cold is behind us, I’m able to walk pain-free for the first time in several years, and I have two willing participants, so I decided I would walk the trail closest to my house and take my hounds with me at least a few times per week.

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Not quite the benefit that the machines will provide when these times are over, but it was something I could easily do to begin my home rehabilitation.

What I experienced was the closest thing to a family reunion as one can get during these times of social isolationism. For the last two weeks, on the days that I ventured out (took a pass on the days below 50 degrees and rainy) we saw so many of the same people taking advantage of the Terry Burk trail, anything from young parents pushing their babies in strollers to a couple racing — one on foot and the other on roller blades — to so many of us taking our dogs for a stroll, that I felt this is the place that best suits my physical and mental needs for my future home rehabilitation.

Six feet apart, mind you.

When the cloud is lifted from these dark times, I hope that my new “family” will continue to take advantage of the spare time to get out into nature with their loved ones. We are fortunate to have the trail system we have here in Westminster.

As William Shakespeare once wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

I’ll see you there.

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