The Arthritis Newsletter

Fall 2014

Scared Straight!…to the gym.

By Ruta Cummings


In which the author explores fear as a motivator, and achieves a successful hip replacement.


You might know the expression “Scared Straight” from the 1978 documentary by the same name that aims to terrify young offenders in an attempt to “scare them straight” so that they will avoid prison life. Well, in my mind hip replacement surgery equated to prison and I did not want that life.


Four years ago now, on an annual visit to the doctor I complained of a slow healing hip/hamstring sport injury. He sent me to a sport medicine clinic for x-rays and 20 minutes later the doctor there diagnosed osteoarthritis (OA) in both hips, the left severely eroded and qualifying for immediate replacement. Wow! I did not see that coming. I was stunned. I walked into the doctor’s office an active, healthy, 50 year-old woman and now I had ancient, disintegrating hips. Haha! Not funny.


In the blur of the moment, we discussed my options. The reality was, other than surgery, there was only one option – strength training. I was assured that I would regain more mobility and be able to stave off surgery until I decided that the pain was too much. I had my doubts about strength training, but if I didn’t try it I knew I would be going under the knife sooner and unprepared, and that scared me straight.


I worked with the sport clinic physical therapists to identify exercises that I needed to do and then I committed to the regimen. It was really difficult and painful in the beginning but even after a couple of weeks time, I saw improved mobility. I started to believe.


I have always been active but not a fan of going to the gym so I knew that I would need help and motivation so I started looking for a trainer. I asked the physical therapists what criteria and characteristics I should be looking for and interviewed all those that qualified from my gym. I found a fabulous trainer – knowledgeable in physiology, kinesiology, functional movement and a certified sports conditioner. We discussed my goals, which were to build up my strength, to improve my mobility and to prepare me for surgery


I worked out twice a week for one hour; every other week I would meet the trainer and he would assess how I was doing. He would introduce new exercises that I could do on my own and many stabilizing exercises that I could do at home as well. I saw a huge difference in my stability, range of motion, strength and flexibility. It really was miracle work. I wasn’t unsteady or worried that my hip would throw me off balance. I felt strong.


I knew that it was time to have surgery when I couldn’t tie my shoelaces anymore.  I could still move around well enough, albeit with a hitch in my step, but it was now very difficult sitting down and getting up. Twisting to get in-and-out of the car was excruciating.


By the time surgery came around, I was physically prepared, which transferred into emotional strength and intellectually I understood what was going to happen and that rehab was my new critical “scared straight” program.  All in all, I staved off surgery for two years and at the same time spent two years training for surgery.


I was shocked that rehab starts immediately. Out of bed and around the room, down the hall, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the assigned exercises were those that I had already been doing. I can’t tell you enough how much of an advantage I had because of my strength. I had no difficulty lifting myself into a chair, lifting my leg, doing the exercises, using the rest of my strength to navigate getting myself into and out of bed. It made a huge difference. I did however need to not rush things, or over-exercise – the bone needs to set and heal and that takes six weeks and no less. After six weeks and physical therapy I was walking unassisted, after eight weeks my surgeon couldn’t guess which hip he operated on if he hadn’t seen the paperwork. I had a whole new lease on life.


Now, as I continue training, for the next hip replacement, the only thing I will do differently is that I will not wait so long. The biggest part of my rehab to date has been to realign my body. In over-compensating for the bad hip, I threw everything else off kilter. I had to untwist my back, I had to learn how to walk without a hitch, I had to remember to bend at the knee and hinge at the hip to put my shoes on or pick something up off the floor. I had to break the habit of contorting my body to compensate for my immobility. It’s nice not being crooked anymore.


July 18th marked two years since my surgery. I am thrilled to say that I am skiing, hiking and sailing without restrictions. I know that I was incredibly fortunate in my surgery and recovery and for those of you contemplating hip replacement surgery, the one thing I can’t stress enough is start building up your overall strength. Talk with your doctor, talk to a physical therapist, work with a trainer to design a program to suit your needs. I guarantee you it will make a HUGE difference for you in preparing you physically, emotionally and intellectually for your hip replacement surgery, and without becoming scared straight.

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