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Michelle Parker: The Recovery

After tearing her knee apart cat-skiing in BC, pro skier Michelle Parker gives us a blow by blow of her post-surgical physical therapy.

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In my first surgery they reconstructed my medial patellofemoral ligament, repaired the meniscus damage, and performed micro fracture to rebuild a cartilage-like substance. Going into this operation, I had a good idea of how my body would react to the narcotics and anesthetics because of a previous ACL reconstruction two years ago. Some helpful precautions that I took were telling the anesthesiologist about my problem with nausea, my reaction to Percocet, and issues with pain I’d experienced in the initial 24 hours post operation. They nearly fixed all of these issues by giving me a patch (for the nausea) to wear behind my ear for the first three days, switching me to Norco instead of Percocet, and applying a nerve block for the pain.

I woke up at 12:45 A.M. as they were taking me out of the recovery room and transferring me into an overnight room. Staying the night at the hospital worked out perfectly. They gave me a drip for the pain and monitored my stats for the first 12 hours. I felt comfortable and woke up ready to get out of there and start my physical therapy. A tip: You can always ask to stay the night after knee surgery and I highly recommend it if you’ve had issues in the past dealing with the pain level and nausea.

By noon the very next day I was in physical therapy determined to do a straight leg raise. Despite the pain and discomfort, I had a list of about 20 exercises to keep me busy while I rested up in bed. I left P.T. with a cryo cuff (for icing) and a C.P.M machine to help me keep my range of motion. With the amount of trauma that I had to my knee, it was important that I iced it as much as possible. So for the first week out of surgery I was using my C.P.M machine and cryo cuff nearly all day.

Every two weeks I was allowed to increase my range of motion by 30 degrees. Up until about 90 degrees this seemed relatively easy, but once I hit 90 it got painful. I would be pinned down by the P.T.’s assistant while my physical therapist, Ladd Williams, would bend my knee. He brought me to tears a couple of times as I shook, yelled, sweat, and dealt with the range of motion stretch. Going into P.T. three times a week knowing that I would be undergoing an intense amount of pain was draining, but it was completely necessary. My goal was to reach 120 degrees so that I could get my ACL surgery.

Along with lots of physical therapy and working out, I wanted to insure that my body was healing as quickly as possible. A few things that are important are diet and sleep. I ended up with an allergic reaction to some kind of plastic so I started to take Benadryl, which also helped me sleep. I took Ultra Bone-Up to aid in the healing of my micro fracture. Ultra Bone-Up can be found at your local health food store and comes with glucosamine for your joints and promoting bone density. I also took Cat’s Claw for immune support. People always talk about the risk of infection that comes with surgery and my physical therapist recommended Cat’s Claw.

On top of rest, it’s very important to keep your protein intake up. While trying to gain your muscle back, your healthy leg and any part of your body that’s taking on extra stress due to injury is taking the protein from your injured leg to aid with the unbalance. So it’s vital that your protein intake stays high if not higher than it was prior to injury to help regain the loss of muscle.

Check out my photos of different exercises that I used after surgery—they’re also very helpful in prevention. It’s important to work on balancing your skier thighs out with lots of hamstring and V.M.O. (the muscle that runs on the inside of the quad) exercises. Those two muscle groups are important if you don’t want to injure your knee.

The photos include bridges which target your hamstrings and can be done on an exercise ball or a pilates reformer or just a low box or chair, dead lifts with a 15 pound weight again targeting your hamstrings, T.K.E.s on a pressurized Kieser machine or an exercise rubber band for the V.M.O. muscle, and the infamous butt box that targets none other than your butt and is performed on the pilates reformer. There is also a photo of the foam roller. The foam roller is a tool that helps you give your muscles a deep tissue massage. It also targets your I.T. bands. The foam roller isn’t super fun (it’s actually painful, especially if you’re tight), but it helps loosen up your body. I travel with it everywhere I go to keep up regular muscular maintenance.

I will continue to post helpful exercises and tips for knee injury prevention. I will also continue with preparation going into the second surgery to fix my ACL and include some books that have helped take my mind off skiing…

For more on Michelle, check out her blog at To read part 1, about her injury, click here.