Knee Pain and Depression

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on October 2, 2012

QUESTION: My husband has been a highly successful tennis pro at a private club for the past 25 years. He has been fortunate in that he has always loved his job and also his faithful clients. Last year, he began suffering knee pain in both his knees. His health deteriorated considerably within the year and he is now on disability. I find myself in the role of caregiver to my husband much sooner than I ever expected. While he is only 52 years old, his physician is suggesting one way to relieve his knee pain is to have both knees replaced.  This decision is causing him great confusion and despair. I am concerned that the chronic pain he is experiencing will lead to depression. He has faith in his doctors, but sometimes I don’t. Why can’t they tell him what to do? I fear his ability to continue as a high-functioning athlete is coming to an end. Since this has been his life’s work for so many years, he feels he has no skills or talents for any other kind of work. Now what?—Ann

ANSWER: Let’s talk about his health first. Navigating the ever-changing world of healthcare is causing many people distress and confusion. You and your husband are not alone in wondering what to do. It has become clear that each one of us must now take full responsibility for our own health and wellness. It is imperative that you and your husband research his condition, question his physicians about options, and then make a decision based on what you have learned. Your husband needs to be a vocal advocate to obtain the best care possible. A physician can only present his or her patient with accurate information, but not advice. The decision always belongs to the patient. You are correct in your concern about chronic knee pain and the effect it can have on your husband’s physical and mental health. This is one reason why it is important to reach a decision about the course of action in a timely manner.

RELATED: Knee Replacement Surgery: Questions to Ask

In the meantime, do what you can to keep your husband physically and mentally involved and interested in his life. He was a professional in his field, but that does not mean his only skills involved a tennis racket and tennis ball. His relationship with his “faithful” clients tells me he has wonderful people skills. My guess he has many other talents that will translate into other professions where he will also meet with success. Arguably, the best book ever written on career and job search advice is Richard Bolles’ best seller What Color is Your Parachute? Purchase a copy for your husband and suggest he read it cover to cover. It is not uncommon for athletes to feel life is over when their bodies can no longer tolerate the same level of activity as before. Once your husband makes his important health decision and experiences wellness once again, he can begin to let go and accept his fate. I believe he will find that a new life is just beginning.

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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (, the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at or