Typically, you might think knee replacements are for people in their 50s or beyond—people who've lived long, active lives or suffered injuries in sports or at work.
Not true for Cara Shultz. She got her knee replaced at The Christ Hospital at the young age of 28, and is she ever glad she did!
Cara works in digital marketing and now lives in California with her two mixed labs, Kimber and Charleigh.
"Every morning, I would wake up with a dull ache in my knee," remembers Cara. "By the time I walked my dogs and got ready for work, the pain was sharp."
Cara's knee troubles started around age 12. Sometimes, her kneecaps shifted out of place as she walked and ran. Once, during high school softball, both kneecaps actually dislocated at the same time.
"I was running from first to second base. Everyone said I just collapsed and crumbled," says Cara. "Mid-run, one knee went out and then the other. And before you knew it, I was on the ground."
As it turns out, Cara's knee troubles are hereditary. Her mother and grandmother suffered from dislocation issues too.
Growing up with bad knees
As Cara grew up, she managed as best she could. When her kneecaps slipped out of place, she moved them back. When they swelled, she iced. When they ached, she used crutches or took Tylenol. And through it all, she did lots of physical therapy exercises, trying to strengthen her knees.
At age 16, Cara's pain got worse. She tore a ligament in her right knee during a bicycle accident and needed surgery to repair it. "They told me not to run anymore—to avoid anything that is high-impact on the knees."
Around age 20, she tore another ligament when her kneecap shifted while walking down stairs. Arthritis set in, and at age 23, she started taking cortisone shots every three to six months to ease the pain.
"During these years, I could not do sports. My friends enjoyed volleyball leagues, but I could barely bend my knees. I could not even dance at semi-formals in college," remembers Cara. "I just moved my hands. Never worth messing up my knees because they went out so often."
"I had gained a ton of weight because I couldn't be active. I decided it's time to do something more."
Finding solutions and pain relief at The Christ Hospital
Finally, at age 28, after five years of taking cortisone pain shots, Cara turned to the orthopedic doctors at The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Center.
"My doctor looked at my X-rays and couldn't believe it. He would have assumed I was at least 60," remembers Cara. "I had horrible arthritis, and my knees had degenerated because of all the wear and tear."
To treat her pain and poor knee mechanics, Cara's doctor suggested a partial replacement for her right knee.
"Our conversation turned on a lightbulb for me," remembers Cara. "I had gained a ton of weight because I couldn't be active. My arthritis was getting worse. I decided it's time to do something more."
Partial knee replacement
Using the latest robotic technology, the surgical team at The Christ Hospital removed arthritis, cartilage and bone pieces left in Cara's knees after all the dislocations.
Then, they replaced the bottom part of her right kneecap with a plastic button and inserted a smooth metal plate for her kneecap to sit in. This means no more pain from bone rubbing on bone when she bends her knee.
"Thanks to my partial knee replacement, there's no more grinding pain. It's a world of difference," says Cara. "Although I still have some mechanical issues that I was born with, it doesn't catch or snag anymore, and I have zero pain with walking!"
Even though Cara had surgery in July 2020, right in the middle of the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic, she says it was less intimidating than her previous surgeries. Her nurse navigators at The Christ Hospital walked her through the pre-surgery testing and helped her feel safe and secure.
Cara raves about her physical therapists too. "They taught me the correct way to strengthen specific muscles around the knee and gave me easy instruction pamphlets so I can do the exercises at home."
"The actual maneuverabilty of my knee is so much better. I now do workouts that I couldn't do before."
Her message for others: Don't wait!
Now, a year after surgery, Cara's quality of life has improved drastically. She lost weight, and she's in great shape for the first time in eight years.
"The actual maneuverability of my knee is so much better. I now do workouts that I couldn't do before."
Already, Cara has hiked through the Rocky Mountains and several national parks, with just a knee brace for extra support. In fact, she feels so much better that she's considering a partial knee replacement for her left knee too.
Her message for other people struggling with the idea of knee replacement surgery: "Talk with your doctor and weigh the pros and cons. Think about what you're missing in life and see if your doctor can help you get back to it," says Cara. "For me, knee replacement at The Christ Hospital opened the door to a normal, pain-free life."
Learn more about how our experts at The Christ Hospital can help relieve your knee pain.