Pickleball Points

Does the decade ahead include new joints?

As we collectively go hurtling into another decade of pickleball, I felt it might be helpful to discuss a subject that might impact a fair number of my readers in the new decade: Joints!

I normally like to write about things with a light-hearted side, but there is nothing fun about joint replacement. Pay attention — there are some things they don’t tell you about joint replacement.

They definitely didn’t tell me that I would have to give up body-building competition. The scars definitely take away from my otherwise well-defined, sculpted body.

And then there is “Click- click.” Everywhere you go, a clicking noise follows you, so you can’t count on getting any more black-ops contracts with the intelligence services.

Having said that, they take the pain away! Good riddance.

Over the last 25 months, I have had two full knee replacements, one knee manipulation, one related cystoscopy, one torn calf muscle, a strained Achilles tendon, a left hip replacement. Throw in two more trips to the emergency room; kidney stones and pneumonia — both from complications due to the surgery. Should I even mention left and right eye cataract removal so I can see the pickleball in flight?

Like many of you, I did every possible thing, from therapy to injections and scoping, to postpone the inevitable — full replacement. But by waiting, I reduced my options. And for the last five years, my knees, legs and hips pulsated with world-class pain. What were those lyrics to “Dem Bones” by the Delta Rhythm Boys?

Your ankle bone connected to your leg bone, your leg bone connected to your knee bone, your knee bone connected to your thigh bone, your thigh bone connected to your hip bone...

Well, it’s true, and if one connection gets out of line, it affects all the others. Because I was trying to compensate for plain in my left hip, I strained my right ankle and calf, and “bang” went my right leg 20 minutes into my very first tournament after sitting out for 18 months recovering from two knee replacements.

Then I dragged around that injured right ankle and calf for another six months, and it put ever more stress on my left hip, until the pain became intolerable and put me over the top for replacement.

Once I decided to have my first knee replaced, I shopped around to find the best hospitals and doctors.

First, I wanted to find a hospital with the lowest infection rate. Infection is the major concern with artificial replacements. I have friends who have had to have replacement joints removed and spacers inserted while the doctors tried to purge infection from the joints.

Then select a surgeon in whom you have complete confidence. We have some great options locally between the various regional hospitals. My latest hospital for the hip replacement had a wing devoted specifically to joint replacement.

Before each surgery, I went out to get other opinions about the implants and types of procedures. Every surgeon was very professional and surrounded themselves with bright-eyed nurses and technicians.

Fortunately, we have a world-class physical therapist in Bob Cairo, and I made sure he was to be in town immediately after each surgery.

Once all those decisions were firm, I showed up early in the morning for my knee replacement. But I was initially alarmed just before the procedure started.

“Now what knee are we going to do today?” the doc asked.

I responded, “Doc, if you don’t know the answer to your question, I think I am in big trouble.”

He went on to explain that they ask that question before surgery to make sure they don’t replace the wrong joint. He explained that it sometimes happens that they get it wrong.

“What? Oh, great!”

Just as they started to pump in the Never-never Land juice, all I could think of was waking up with an elbow grafted on my knee.

On my second knee surgery, I drew a red “Cut on dotted line” on the correct knee.

Many people have asked for my opinion if they should have replacements. If you have to ask, maybe you are not ready. In my case, there was far too much serious and continuous pain to consider any alternatives. I had no other options.

I can offer this advice. Once you decide favorably for joint replacement, do it sooner, rather than later. But, please remember, the odds are already great enough that something will go haywire at some point in the surgery or recovery process, so pay attention and adhere to the instructions given you from the moment you enter the process, when you leave the hospital, and instructions in physical therapy. Most of the folks who had problems seemed to be clueless and failed to follow basic instructions.

The promise of stem-cell cartilage replacement is just over the horizon, and I delayed until I could no longer tolerate the pain. I finally concluded I was advancing in age faster than the promise of stem-cell regenerative cartilage. It still seems promising for many of you in this next decade.

I really did not know what to expect before the first surgery, but now I can offer several simple tips.

First, start preparing long before surgery by getting as much exercise as your body will tolerate. The doctor told me, despite the grinding noise my joints made when I moved, that I had already maximized the damage.

I exercised daily on machines such as recumbent bikes, where the pain was tolerable. A strong body will withstand the rigors of surgery and recover better, and after-surgery rehab will be much easier.

Remember, you are going to be sitting around in the early stages of recovery when diet and exercise are doubtful. In teaching racket sports, I sometimes suggest people strap a 20-pound bag of potatoes on their chest and then try to play. They are slower getting to the ball, tire sooner and can feel the stress on the frame of their body. It’s just common sense!

So once you get new knees and hips, you don’t want to stress them with extra weight. Diet, and cut out alcohol, which will not mix with the prescribed pain killers. Balance your diet with fruit and vegetables, and eat foods rich in iron, because iron in your blood will create hemoglobin, which will play a big role in delivering oxygen to your wounds and expediting recovery after surgery.

I hope this has been helpful. If you think joint replacement is in the future, get ahead of it. Maybe, if you get your weight under control by exercise and eating healthier, you might be able to avoid these surgeries altogether.


By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.