Real estate agent Lou Volpe, 59, has lived with knee pain for almost half his life. The Camarillo, California resident’s knee problems began very innocently almost 30 years ago. At the time, Volpe enjoyed playing with his young children in the family’s backyard. But one sudden movement changed that.
“I jumped over my dog, and my knees locked up,” Volpe says, a father to five children and grandfather to seven. “My doctor told me I had torn my meniscus.”
In a healthy knee, menisci act as shock absorbers in the joint. They protect the bones against damage from wear and tear. When menisci tear or wear away, the bones in the joints can rub together. Over time, this can lead to significant pain.
At the time of Volpe’s mishap, arthroscopy was a new treatment option. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure and allows surgeons to inspect a joint. Surgeons can even repair some damage through the small incisions. Because the surgery was so new when Volpe injured his knee, his doctor didn’t perform it. Instead, Volpe’s meniscus was removed entirely, and he was put in a cast for six weeks.
As a ranching hobbyist, Volpe’s treatment would eventually cause problems.
“There’s nothing between the bones, and so less than 10 years later, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), and it was getting worse and worse,” he says.
The best choice
“My knee felt really weak, like it was going to give out at any moment,” he says. “I couldn’t really walk right either.”
A new doctor told him he would need a knee replacement.
“But I wasn’t in a lot of pain and I could stand it, so I chose to delay it as long as possible,” he says.
Instead of accepting the fate that had been prescribed to him, Volpe got to work and began looking for alternative treatments that might help him. He focused his efforts on finding a way to replace what his previous surgery had removed, his meniscus.
“I was looking for something that could possibly replace the meniscus or at least do the job it had been doing. Turns out, that doesn’t really exist,” he says.
But Volpe did stumble upon viscosupplementation. In this procedure, a doctor injects a gel-like fluid into the damaged joint. This fluid is called hyaluronic acid. The body naturally produces hyaluronic acid, but damaged joints may not have enough of the lubricant for healthy movement. For those with OA, the injection can sometimes provide relief.
Volpe has been getting these injections for the past six or seven years. He receives the shots every two or three years, depending on how his knee feels.
“I don’t want to do it if I don’t need it,” he says. “When I feel like the knee is getting weak, that’s when I get another injection.”
On his Santa Rosa, California valley ranch, Volpe enjoys riding his horse, Cowboy.
“I always wanted to be a cowboy, so about 11 years ago I decided to learn how to ride,” he says. “I love riding horses because I grew up in Italy watching spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood.”
And from remodeling his home to pruning fruit trees, living on the ranch keeps him active.
OA has reduced some of his capabilities, but only slightly.
“I can’t run, but I can jog as long as I keep my feet low to the ground,” Volpe says. “I ride my bicycle in the neighborhood and hit my 70-pound punching bag, too. For more fun, I play Ping-Pong when my kids and grandkids come over.”
Any OA treatment that would prevent Volpe from enjoying life wasn’t a treatment option he could accept.
“When you have the surgery, that’s it. You can’t go back,” he says. “Plus, the replacements aren’t that great in my opinion. They work okay, but they never work like your own knee. You can walk, but that’s pretty much it.”
Volpe may eventually need a replacement. The injections might not be as beneficial as they have been in the past. But for now, Volpe is able to manage his OA symptoms.
“The last time I saw my doctor, he said that as long as I can keep going with these injections, I shouldn’t have to replace it. That’s great news,” he says.