As published in the NWI Times
by. Giles Bruce
Eric Hicks of Cedar Lake had a rare condition called stiff-knee syndrome that left him unable to bend his knee. He has had nine surgeries and procedures to correct this condition and is rehabilitating every date at Great Lakes Orthopedics in St. John.
ST. JOHN — Eric Hicks pushed a sled containing 190 pounds worth of weights across the floor. A roughly 9-inch scar on his left knee, he walked as gingerly as he could.
“Try to get some bigger strides coming back, Eric,” said Ashley Jones, a physical therapy assistant at the Great Lakes Orthopedics clinic. “There you go.
“When we first started on this, what weight did we have on there?” she asked him.
“Nothing, not a pound,” Hicks said.
The 31-year-old from Cedar Lake has come a long way since October, when he couldn’t even straighten his left leg.
Hicks’ joint problems started during high school football, when he took a helmet to the knee. A surgeon repaired his ACL and meniscus. Over the next 13 years, he would undergo eight more surgeries.
He continued to play football, but his knee problems persisted. During college, a physician compared his knee to that of a 60-year-old man. He was diagnosed with arthritis.
By last year, if he as much as walked around the block, his knee would swell up and be out of use for days. He had to stop working at his job as a railroad conductor. In October, he underwent a full knee replacement.
Afterward, however, things got worse. A normal knee bends 0 degrees (straight) to 140 degrees (fully bent). Hicks’ range was between 50 and 75 degrees.
He had to wear a brace and use a cane. Physical therapy and surgical manipulations didn’t fix the problem.
“I couldn’t do anything with my kids or my wife,” Hicks said. “I was pretty much stuck in a chair. For me to get up to walk to the mailbox was pretty much impossible.” He even considered having his leg amputated and getting outfitted with a prosthetic.
“I was at a point where I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without any type of assistance,” he said. “It was like I was a 3-year-old. I have a 5-year-old and 7-year-old that look up to me.”
New surgery helps
Hicks was referred to a Chicago hip and knee revisionist. That doctor diagnosed Hicks with “stiff knee syndrome,” or arthrofibrosis, a buildup of scar tissue after a knee replacement.
“It’s sort of an exaggerated healing response,” said Dr. Henry Finn, director of the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital and professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago. “The knee has a bend inflection like you’re sitting but won’t go straight. Imagine how crippling that would be. You would be all hunched over and couldn’t walk with any semblance of a normal gait. You could barely hop along.”
He noted that the knee is the largest joint in the body. When it goes bad, he said, it “causes more functional disability than any other joint.”
According to Weiss Memorial Hospital, about 10 percent of knee replacements are revisions. Of those, about half (or 50,000 a year) involve some degree of stiff knee syndrome. While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, Finn said it may be the result of genetics, hidden infections or allergies to metal.