Using Tai Chi movements for rehabilitation after knee surgery.
After 30 years as a high-performing professional, including more than a decade as managing partner of a successful law firm, I am sometimes asked, “Why do you practice and teach Tai Chi and Qigong?”
For me, a complete answer to that question is multi-layered and ever-evolving. But one main reason is this:
With practice, Tai Chi and Qigong offer tools that allow me to take charge of my health and transform my life.
At 55, after years of the stress, wear, and tear of high performance, that reason alone, at least to me, is “worth the price of admission.” In the case of Tai Chi and Qigong, that means high quality instruction and lots of practice.
In this post, I want to provide a very concrete example of using Tai Chi movements and principles for healing. For me, this example is really important, both right now and in the long term.
Today, knee surgery is common. Before a procedure, most surgeons will acknowledge that outcomes are variable, and the long term consequences of the outcome are important for mobility and pain free living as we age.
I went under the knife last week. The outcome so far moves me to share this post and the accompanying video.
Five days post-op:
- Since coming out of anesthesia, I have experienced only very occasional and very minor pain and have taken no pain medication.
- I am off crutches and can walk at a slow pace.
- I can comfortably flex the knee about 80 degrees.
- My mood has remained generally light, positive, and optimistic, notwithstanding the minor trauma of the procedure and the restricted mobility that followed.
So what did I do? Here’s my report.
Arthroscopy for a torn lateral meniscus.
After managing a torn lateral meniscus for 4+ years through a variety of means, my physician and I concluded that arthroscopic surgery was warranted. So last Friday, I checked in at 6 am into an outpatient surgery clinic in the Chicago Loop, was soon under general anesthesia, and by 8:30 in recovery. By then, my right knee had endured some degree of surgical trauma, could bear no weight, and had little range of motion.
As an athlete and Tai Chi and Qigong instructor, I had a personal rehab plan. It began in recovery as soon as I regained consciousness. I began gentle ankle rotations and some supine Qigong on my leg. Then the day after surgery, I begin working a modified version of Tai Chi Circling Hands, a movement set taught by my main teacher, Lineage Holder Bruce Frantzis. It’s an excellent set in its own right and a great foundation for Tai Chi, incorporating relaxed, circular, whole body movements, with repeated weight shifts and hip turns.
To modify the set to work with my knee, I applied two key principles that are foundational to Tai Chi and Qigong as taught by Bruce, principles he heavily emphasizes in instructor trainings. These principles are radically different from typical exercise instruction, but are central to my successful initial healing.
The 70% rule. The 70% rule holds that, when you are healthy, you do no movement or practice greater than 70% of your maximum. By staying within 70% of your maximum, you can perform sophisticated movements and relax tissue at the same time, a foundation of Tai Chi and moving Qigong. Plus you are better positioned to avoid injury or burnout. The 70% rule is the antithesis of “give it 110%” we hear sometimes in other exercise regimes.
When the 70% rule is applied to injury or illness, then you dial back your movements much further. Your 100% becomes the onset of pain or just before the onset of pain, and from there you reduce your range of motion to 50% of that or less, depending on the condition. In this way you can move without pain, gaining the benefits of the movements, while relaxing nerves and soft tissue.
The injured joint “leads” the movements. This principle means that the amount of movement in the injured joint sets the amount of movement in the rest of the body. Put another way, the uninjured parts only move as much as the injured part.
Depending on the injury, this could mean the movements become very small. But they are balanced, and energy, blood, and other fluids are not drawn away from the injured area to move the uninjured area more.
Day 1 Post-op: Modified Tai Chi Circling Hands. Beginning the day after surgery, I applied these principles to modify Tai Chi Circling Hands for my condition. At first, my movements were very slow and small, enabling me to feel into the joint area for any signals of pain or discomfort. At the same time, the movements helped improve circulation of healing fluids like blood, lymph, and interstitial fluid, and helped me reconnect neurologically through a traumatized joint to my foot, preparing the system to bear weight when the joint was ready.
Day 3 Post-op – watch the video. In the video below, I demonstrate the modified Circling Hands movements and explain how I apply the above principles (three days post-op, real time!). From my perspective, the results so far suggest a outstanding foundation for a good outcome. Classic PT starts tomorrow.
To be clear, this is about my initial rehab efforts applied specifically to my condition. I am not a doctor or physical therapist. But as you will see in the video, I applied the two principles summarized above to a movement set that, at least in my case, may have contributed to healing and a prompt return of function. Any application of this material to other persons, injuries, or conditions should be done under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.
To see how I did it, check out the video.
Thanks to my teacher and doctors. I’ll close putting out some gratitude. Thanks to Bruce Frantzis for sharing this immensely beneficial material with us. To learn more about Bruce and his teachings, go to www.energyarts.com. The site also contains a directory of certified Energy Arts Instructors, so you can find a qualified instructor in your area.
Thanks to Dr. Terry Nicola and surgeon Dr. Mark Hutchison, the highly skilled, conservative, and caring doctors at the UIC Sports Medicine Clinic and their awesome staff. My kind of Western medicine.
Live in Chicago and interested in Tai Chi or Qigong? Finally, if you live in Chicago and want to learn more about transforming your life with Tai Chi and Qigong, check out our website at www.chicagotaichi.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Qi to you.