The Arthritis Newsletter

Winter 2017

A Non-Invasive Solution: One man’s experience with physiotherapy versus surgery

By Jon Collins


For some, surgery is inevitable after an injury or ongoing joint issues related to arthritis. But for others, as I found, a physio-first approach may be a useful strategy to managing and improving arthritis.


After being diagnosed with a torn meniscus, a strained medial cruciate ligament and some osteoarthritis, I was told I needed arthroscopic surgery. I questioned if there were any other options and was told I could first try physiotherapy.


As my physiotherapist pointed out, it didn’t matter to him whether I did physio or surgery – I was a client either way. He told me to get myself onto an orthopedic surgeon’s list and in the meantime we could start physio. That way, when I finally saw the surgeon after three months of waiting, and was scheduled for surgery in another three, I’d already have six months of physio under my belt. This way, I’d have a better idea of whether I was going to follow through with the surgery or not.


During this time, my son, who is a rheumatologist, emailed me several articles on knee osteoarthritis. The gist of these papers was that patients with problems like mine see the same results after about a year without surgery as people who undergo arthroscopic surgery. As well, patients undergoing surgery initially improve quickly within the first three months of surgery, but have a tendency to develop more serious osteoarthritis two or more years later.


After six months, it was an easy decision for me to decline surgery. There had been so much improvement in my knee with the exercises and physiotherapy that I was very optimistic about the physio route. After a year, my physiotherapist “forced” me back on the golf course. My golf game progressed and 18 months after my injury I could play a complete round of golf using a cart. At two years, I was walking an entire round with some pain and around the three year mark, I was walking without any pain or swelling.


While I’ve used golf as the gauge of how I’m doing, by continuing the exercise program I’ve also been able to resume walking, cycling, gym workouts, curling with a stick, and downhill and cross-country skiing.


Two years ago I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory arthritis that causes joints to swell painfully and inflict damage in severe cases. Fortunately mine is mild so far, but to combat this, I’ve developed a daily pre-breakfast, 30 minute warm-up routine which includes knee strengthening to get my arthritic stiff body moving for the day. These exercises, along with my sports and walking, really do help relieve stress, suppress inflammation and keep the arthritis at bay.


As a member of Arthritis Research Canada’s Arthritis Patient Advisory Board, I’m often exposed to research that clearly shows the importance of exercise in helping diminish the ravages of inflammatory arthritis and my experience certainly backs that up.


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