Sometimes I imagine this question, in a slightly querulous tone, coming from someone who has read either my entry here about what I did to save my knees, or this loonnnggg thread here, on Knee Guru's bulletin boards, that also reveals how I got better. (Quick disclaimer: I steer away from giving advice, so I took some poetic license with the title of this post.)
At Knee Guru, several smart people greeted me by peppering me with questions, curious about my "exercise regimen." How did I do this, how did I do that, what did I mean by this, what did I mean by that? And then, I have no doubt, they tried what worked for me: lots of easy, joint-friendly motion (for example, I did "walkarounds" in my apartment, where a wind-up timer would go off every 15 minutes, to alert me I needed to get up and walk a little, about 70 steps. Cleaving to that routine kept dosing my knees with movement).
After a few days of copying everything I did, I'm guessing many of them gave up in frustration, because their knees felt about the same.
So let me take a moment to make a few more in-depth observations about how I healed.
First, and it's hard to overstate the importance of this: recovering from a slow-healing injury isn't linear. What that means: you don't feel 15 units of healthy today, 16 units of healthy tomorrow, 17 units the day after that, and so on until you're at 100 percent again. If only healing were like a smoothly ascending straight line on a sheet of graph paper! Because then, as soon as you discovered the proper solution to getting better, you would know immediately that you'd found it because you would begin feeling an improvement every day forward.
Unfortunately, on the long road to saving my knees, there were ups and downs. Over a single month, I might happen to feel worse on the 22nd than on the 5th -- even though I was getting better over the entire month. So I learned that what I really needed to focus on was the trend line of healing. I had to be patient and squint hard to see that line. It only becomes clear over the course of some time.
Which brings me to point two: whatever path you choose to heal, it will probably take many months to bring you to your destination. For me, it took the better part of two years. This too has enormous implications, because early on (if you're like I was), you're casting about in frustration and desperation for a solution, any solution. So you try different things, in the same manner that a clotheshorse swaps out hats -- okay this guy says if I eat asparagus, that's good for the joints, I'll do that, wait this guy says I need to squeeze a beach ball between my knees, okay let's see if that works, now this guy says ...
Essentially you're a butterfly in the garden of healing, flitting from flower to flower, never committing to anything. Will you get better this way? I doubt it. You need to find a path, stick with it for a while (to verify that it's the right one), and then persist to the end.
Last observation on healing: the worse off you are, the longer it will take to make a few small gains. This too is critical to know. If your knees are really bad, it could take five or six months to make them just a little better. During this time, sadly, you may be tempted to just give up, thinking, "If it takes this long to go a little way, it will take me 20 years to get better!"
But what I observed about healing: it starts going faster as your knees get stronger.
I quit my job right at the end of April 2008. I had to; I couldn't sit in one place, with my knees bent normally, without a lot of uncomfortable burning, and my joints were going downhill fast. As soon as I quit, I devoted myself to a program of gentle motion, in amounts that my knees could tolerate. I focused like a laser on my goal.
Four and a half months later, I felt a little better, but not much. I began to have serious doubts. Would I really be able to beat this thing? What I didn't know was that my dedication to slow and steady motion was already helping my knees prepare for the next level of my program -- that November, I started walking on hilly trails, very carefully at first. Had I not spent the summer building up my knees, I don't think they could have withstood the rigor of that kind of exercise.
So if you're wondering why you're not getting better, even though you think you're doing what you should be, just consider these points above. Healing isn't linear. It's not swift. And, early on, it can be really, really slow. This is all important to know to win the battle.