Healing Time

What my knee surgery taught me about recovery
August 31, 2017 Updated: August 31, 2017

About 20 years ago, I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I was running a lot, and over a period of a few months, my right knee began “talking” to me. A trip to my doctor ended up with a referral to an orthopedic surgeon, and not knowing any better, I let him operate without much diagnostic assessment.

Everything I had heard about arthroscopic knee surgery was that it was a piece of cake, and I would be running again in two weeks. The surgery happened, and it turned out that the knee had needed nothing (it was “pristine” in the words of the surgeon). I was left to recover on my own. Despite all I had been told about recovering from this kind of surgery, it took me six months of pain, physical therapy, and frustration before I was able to run even a few steps.

I learned several painful lessons from that surgery, and one was that despite the expectations of your medical team, friends, and well-wishers, the time it takes to heal from trauma or surgery varies a lot from person to person. There are a number of factors that can influence healing time:

Your overall health. If you’re run down, have poor immunity, or have some other health condition, it can take longer for you to heal than, say, a healthy 20-year-old.

The amount of trauma involved in your injury. A dentist once told me that how quickly a person heals from a tooth extraction is directly related to how difficult it was to pull the tooth. This is true of any kind of trauma. A bad accident or complicated surgery takes some serious healing time.

Your level of pain. The bottom line is it is incredibly difficult to heal when you’re in a lot of pain. It’s harder to move, eat, and sleep—all of which are needed to recover.

Your mindset. It can be hard to keep your head in the game if your quality of life is diminished by pain and immobility, but a sense of calm and optimism about your condition can help a lot. Being motivated to get yourself up and moving around, and knowing that you will eventually heal, can work like a tonic.

Diet. Your body uses a lot of energy to heal itself. Help fuel the process by giving it what it needs. Stay hydrated and eat nourishing proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and lots of plant-based foods. Your body will thank you.


Other forms of self-care. Other therapies, like massage and physical therapy, can be beneficial while you’re healing. This is where acupuncture comes in. A few sessions on the acupuncture table can help reduce your pain, improve sleep, and alleviate the stress associated with recovery. Most major hospitals in the United States offer acupuncture for inpatients, and some even offer it in their emergency rooms.

So what was the deal with my six-month knee ordeal? My theory is that when the surgeon didn’t find anything wrong with it, he went on a fishing expedition to try to find the source of my pain. This “exploration” made a simple surgery more traumatic. The aftermath came with a lot of pain and swelling, poor range of motion, and overall loss of mobility.

The good news is that now my knee is fully functional and pain-free. I’ve learned from the experience that there’s no standard timetable for healing, and to ask a lot more questions before agreeing to surgery.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com