Judy Witbeck, 74, is a very active person, so when she needed knee replacement surgery, she didn’t hesitate to have it, assuming that she’d be able to return to her active lifestyle once she recovered.
Everything went mostly as planned with her first knee replacement, but not with her second.
“I had my left knee replaced 2016. While I developed scar tissue, I was able to work through it,” says Judy. “I had surgery to replace my right knee in 2018 and I developed scar tissue in that one, too.”
The road to recovery wasn’t as smooth the second time around. The exercises knee replacement patients perform in rehab should help break up scar tissue and return the knee to full flexibility. With work, Judy’s knee reached the degree of flexion her care team wanted to see, and she was released from rehab.
But Judy developed arthrofibrosis, a buildup of excess scar tissue that can lead to a permanent inability to bend or straighten the leg. With her knee uncomfortably stiff, she entered rehab once more, getting her knee to the right degree of flexion before being released again. Frustratingly, her scar tissue came back.
In 2019, Judy’s doctor performed a manipulation on her right knee. This incision-free procedure performed under anesthesia uses a series of motion to break up scar tissue. The manipulation was unsuccessful. Judy’s doctor then surgically removed scar tissue from her knee to treat her arthrofibrosis. After one more round of rehab, the scar tissue returned, and Judy thought she was out of options.
“I normally would play sports five to seven days a week to keep my leg moving but it did not help. After the scar tissue came back following the last surgery, the doctor released me from the practice saying he couldn’t do any more for me,” says Judy. “Arthrofibrosis is not uncommon, but I found myself on my own trying to find someone to help me.”
Given the time that had passed since her knee replacement, many doctors weren’t willing to take Judy on as a patient. Then she found orthopedic surgeon and renowned knee expert Frank Noyes, MD, who agreed to treat her. She travelled from her home in Savannah, Georgia to Cincinnati, Ohio to start a six-week treatment program.
“I felt honored and thrilled that he took me,” says Judy, whose quality of life was being impacted badly by arthrofibrosis.
“My knee woke me up because it hurt. I couldn’t sleep through the night. It was stiff and I fell on the tennis court. I broke my wrist because my leg couldn’t move. I couldn’t walk up and down stairs and it was hard to get into cars,” she says.
Judy found Dr. Noyes and his team a “well-oiled machine from beginning to end. I can’t get over how well everything works there. Dr. Noyes, Christine, Evan, Chad and Dr. Fritz – this whole group of people is fantastic.”
First for Judy was one more surgery on August 10, 2022.
“Dr. Noyes cut out my scar tissue. It took longer than he thought. While there, he stretched some of my tendons, too. They had shrunk because I couldn’t move my leg,” she says. “Dr. Noyes specializes in arthrofibrosis, and he understood how to do the surgery.”
Then Judy went to rehab for the rest of her stay in Cincinnati.
“The rehab up in Cincinnati was different,” she says. “In Savannah, it was no pain, no gain. I was doing exercises until it hurt. I just can’t believe how my leg is now. It feels different this time. It doesn’t hurt. Previously, it hurt all the time.”
While Dr. Noyes told her that she can’t play sports for six months to one year, Judy agreed.
“If I have the mobility of my leg back, I’m willing to do that,” she says.
Now back at home, she’s diligently performing her rehab exercises for six to eight hours daily.
“I get up in the morning and do my daily exercises first. Along with that, I ice my leg, do manipulation on my knee and do other exercises, too. I never want my knee to get back to the way it was before. Dr. Noyes and his team did what they did for me. I owe it to them to do what I need to do to keep it this way. They gave their all to me, so I do the same,” says Judy.
She’s hopeful about her prognosis.
“I have to get through a year without the scar tissue coming back. I should be fine after that,” she says. “I couldn’t be happier. I feel blessed and fortunate and can’t get over the fact that I can walk and down steps and get into a car. My major motivation in having knee replacement surgery in the first place was to be mobile and do things with my husband, children and grandchildren. I don’t like having to be dependent. The results I’ve had from working with Dr. Noyes will really allow to feel more comfortable doing things. Who knows what I’ll do next?”