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Knee Club keeps patients tough during lonely months of rehab

Laura Reimer started the informal group after knee replacement surgery and struggling through recovery

Laura Glowacki · CBC News · Posted: Feb 26, 2018 5:00 AM CT | Last Updated: February 26

Laura Reimer started the Knee Club in the summer after she had a knee replacement in May. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

Every month about a dozen Winnipeggers meet up a rehabilitation centre to catch up over coffee and talk about a subject that has dominated their lives in recent months — their knees.

Joint replacement is one of the most common surgeries in Canada and will only increase as our population ages. But for new knees to be successful patients have to override an instinct to rest and push themselves through months, sometimes years, of rehab.

Patients can feel "crippled, pained and discouraged" during the process, says Laura Reimer, founder of the "Knee Club."

The 57-year-old had her left knee replaced in May with the hope she might be able to run again with the new joint.

In 2003 she smashed her knee into a curb in a cycling accident. Arthritis formed eventually caused constant, excruciating pain. 

Reimer went into the surgery knowing she was signing onto 18 to 24 months of recovery. But it's one thing to know something, another to live it.

"Somewhere at about 12 weeks you finally realize when the surgeon told you it's going to take two years to recover, you actually believe him."

Debbie Voyer (right) has been meeting with the Knee Club since this summer on and off. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Three months after her surgery, she still couldn't sit in a movie theatre. Taking a plane was out of the question. Just getting in and out of the car or using a public toilet was an ordeal. It's a time when supports fall away.

"Your family is sick of it. You're sick of it. If you don't have some kind of health care you're starting to have to pay for rehabilitation which is expensive. It's very discouraging," said Reimer.

In the summer, she started meeting with other knee patients on a regular basis to share information and commiserate. Out of those meetings the Knee Club was born. 

Now the 15-member club meet monthly at the Total Rehabilitation and Sports Injuries Clinic on Provencher Boulevard. They wear black Knee Club t-shirts when working out together, keep in touch over text and have a Facebook page.

"We kind of shifted from being … lonely warriors to being a group of inspired people," Reimer said. "We kind of fed off of each other."

Laura Reimer went on a sailing trip in Mexico in early 2018. (courtesy Laura Reimer)

For Reimer the progress of regaining movement was so painfully slow she tracked each degree of movement she got back. It took from August to December to bend her knee five more degrees — one degree every four weeks.

More than 1,500 people receive knee replacement in Winnipeg every year. Most, 86 per cent, say they are satisfied with their new knees, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Between 90 and 95 percent of new knees last 15 years and most patients report years of pain-free movement.

Debbie Voyer has had both of her knees replaced in recent years. She has met up with the Knee Club on and off since it started.

"Just to know there's other people and you're not alone in this. You go through all kinds of different emotions," Voyer said.

Many people, even partners, don't understand what a person recovering from knee surgery is going through, she said. 

Marta Breul is an athletic therapist at Total Rehabilitation and Sports Injuries Clinic who says she has taken on more clients since the outpatient program for full knee replacement was cancelled. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Marta Breul, an athletic therapist, works with Reimer and other members of the Knee Club. Good rehabilitation is essential for patients in their recovery, she said.

"It makes all the difference. It takes you from not being able to climb stairs or even want to get out of bed to having your life back."

In nearly every total knee replacement, Breul says patients see their normal supports — kids, partners, friends — drop off after about three months. A community like the Knee Club gives patients nearly 24/7 access to others sympathetic to what they're going through.

"You need a big support system," she said. "Just have something to look forward to … whether it's every two weeks, once a month and book it on your social calendar and have it boost your mood a little bit."

Last year an outpatient knee recovery program was cut by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to save money. The health authority encourages patients to seek out private rehabilitation clinics and do exercises at home. Previously, hospitals across Winnipeg offered free physiotherapy classes to groups of between five and 10 people, twice a week after their surgeries. 

Breul said that's driven more knee patients to seek out her help, she said. 

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokesperson Bronwyn Penner Holigroski said in an email while the Knee Club is not affiliated with Concordia Hospital or employees within the health region, the WRHA will "work with Ms. Reimer as she continues to make connections within the region to grow her support network."


CBC News Manitoba

Knee replacement surgery and recovery


00:00 02:10

Every month about a dozen Winnipeggers meet up a rehabilitation centre to catch up over coffee and talk about a subject that has dominated their lives in recent months — their knees. 2:10

About the Author

Laura Glowacki


Laura Glowacki is based in Winnipeg. Reach her at and find her on Twitter @glowacky.

with files from Erin Brohman

·         ©2018 CBC/Radio-Canada. All rights reserved.


Knee and Foxes

Jane Cahill, Ph D

Knees and Foxes                                                                                         February, 2018

Dr Jane Cahill

My daughter lives at the top of a hill. The hill is on the outskirts of the city of Canterbury in England. I have climbed that hill many times. It takes about 35 minutes to walk from the centre of town to her house. 45 from the “old folks” home where my father spent his last year. A mere 25 from our favourite restaurant. The house that Anna and her husband live in is small, more cute than functional.  On a tiny road too narrow for a garbage truck, six houses perch, of which theirs is one.  The road slopes up abruptly. The actual approach to each house is six stone slabs inserted into a grassy bank with a gradient like that of a ski slope. There is no railing. British by-laws forbid almost everything and they quite reasonably forbid a railing that would interfere with the neighbours’ ability to get themselves and their cars up and down the hill.  

My daughter and her husband were in their mid-twenties when they first moved in.  My father a sprightly ninety year old. He did once tumble down the grassy bank. We all watched in horror as he fell… but he picked himself up, announced “no bones broken” and went whistling on his way.

I was I my mid fifties then and my knees still worked. It was all so easy then.

You can guess where this is going. When I visited Anna and Daniel in 2014 after the birth of my first English grandchild (there are others in Halifax NS but that’s a whole different story…) I could manage the hill, both the long trek from the town centre and the adventure in mountaineering at the top.  When I visited in 2015 my knee had started to buckle whenever I most needed it not to buckle. “It’s just a knee, Mum,” my daughter said. It was clear there would be minimal sympathy so I walked into town and back several times and got up and down the stone steps with a minimum of grimacing. I didn’t attempt the grassy knoll with a baby in my arms. In 2016 the knees were much worse, the second by then no more reliable than the first. I saw a surgeon in June of that year. “The wait time is currently 14 months,” he announced. “Your first surgery will be in August 2017.”  I didn’t go to England (the country of my birth and youth) at all that year - the first time in 15 years. If your daughter has a one year old and is pregnant again and neither of your knees work, you will be more trouble than you are worth. Anna needed help, not an extra person to look after. By my own choice I stayed away. My younger English grandchild, a second girl, was born on December 23rd 2016. I didn’t get to meet her until December 23rd 2017. Because of the knees. Am I allowed to swear? Because of these !%$!@#! knees. 

I had my first surgery not in August 2017, but in March 2017, because of a cancellation. (Thank you, whoever you are, the person who cancelled. I just hope you didn’t die while waiting for your surgery.) The second surgery was in August. The earliest I thought I could manage airplanes and airports even with wheelchair assistance (remind me to write about that sometime) was December 2017. Four months to the day after the second surgery, on Emily’s first birthday, I arrived in Canterbury. Daniel came to Heathrow to meet me. I don’t remember whether or not it was difficult, when we finally arrived at the top of the hill, to get out of the car and up the stone slabs to the house. There was a beautiful unknown child waiting inside (she was asleep so I got to just stare at her for a full ten minutes) and there are some things (few, but some) that are of more significance than knees.

The problem came the next day, when it was time for us all to take the dog for his walk in the woods, and I tried to get out of the house. Down, as many of us have discovered after knee surgery, is much, much harder than up.  

We are spoiled in Winnipeg.   We have flat, wide sidewalks with no lumps and bumps. (Oh! Did I mention that the narrow road on which Anna’s house sits is paved with cobble stones?) We have infrequent rain. (In England, believe me, it can rain without stopping for weeks.) That day, in the rain, I could not get down the hill. I stood, petrified, on the topmost stone slab, with not a clue how to make either knee bend in such a way that I could step down. I had made similar descents at an exercise class in Winnipeg - indoors, dry, with rails on either side to hold onto and an athletic therapist at my side.

My daughter was patient. But three year old Sophie was not.
“Come on, Granny,” she called. “I want to show you where the foxes live. You have to come!”

I tried to get down the steps like a normal person. Really I tried. I had my cane, but the stone was so slippery it was useless. My daughter began to climb back up to help me, but that meant leaving the stroller with a baby in it precariously balanced on the slope and trying to convince the dog that he would, eventually get his walk if he could just be patient for a minute. . .I knew I had to solve this one on my own.

You know what I did, of course. We all have to do it at least once. (My friend Susan had to do it at her dentist’s office. Everybody around her was embarrassed, but she was quite pleased with herself.) I came down the grassy slope on my bum! Sophie was thrilled. I guess this made her think that Granny was really cool. Baby Emily giggled. Anna raised her eyebrows. The dog whined impatiently. I did have grass stains on my raincoat, but really, who cares?

We made it to the foxes’ den.  Foxes sleep during the day, so we didn’t actually see them, but we could see their tracks, and their droppings, which Sophie pointed out to me with great solemnity.      

 I stayed in Canterbury for two months. By the end of that time, I could get down the stone slabs with the aid of my cane very efficiently. And I could walk to Sophie’s daycare – “Nursery’s House,” she calls it - (downhill) and back (uphill), 40 minutes in total, with relative ease.   

I’m going back again soon. (My son-in-law is a saint.)  In May and June, fox cubs that are born in February sometimes come out with their mother to play on a stretch of grass right beside the narrow road leading to Anna and Daniel’s house. It’s always at night that they do this. You hear them, because the noises they make sound like laughter. I have permission to wake Sophie up, if this happens, so that she can watch and listen from her bedroom window.

And, this time, not only will I get down the grassy slope without difficulty, I also plan to walk into town and back a few times - just for old time’s sake.


 Jane Cahill