I used to think I was tough but I’m not. I realised this not when I was climbing a particularly painful mountain, navigating a challenging divorce or even in childbirth.
I realised it when my knee started to hurt and I couldn’t damn fix it.
What started as a twinge soon became an ache and the ache became a pain and the pain became a stab and I became immobile. In spite of all my efforts to rest and recover, within three weeks I couldn’t walk at all.
Not being able to walk at all was torture, more for my mental health than physical. Walking is my daily medicine. It is my head clearing, decluttering, problem-solving dose of happiness. And when it was taken away and replaced with pain and suffering, I was miserable.
So in my misery, I went in search of answers. I started with my GP, who told me I had what he had… whatever that was… and gave me a 45-minute lecture before sending me off for an MRI and a referral to a knee surgeon.
The surgeon took one minute to look at the scan, two minutes to find out where it hurt and three minutes to squeeze and prod me. He said I didn’t need surgery, I should never have been given an MRI and I should just get out there and toughen up princess because everybody my age has bad knees.
Despite a fractured tibia after being hit by a car on my bike a few years ago, I thought my 58-year-old knees were in pretty good shape. But now I suddenly had osteoarthritis, a torn meniscus and a baker’s cyst. And that was just part of life.
I was shattered.
I went from one health expert to another feeling old and decrepit: osteo, massage, chiro, physio, acupuncture. It seemed like nobody cared about my ‘old’ knees – what did it really matter if a nearly 60-year-old I couldn’t continue to hike mountains? Shouldn’t I be past that, anyway? Shouldn’t I be grateful to just be alive?
Finally, I found one who cared. He is a sports chiropractor who listened for 45 minutes and then told me my knee could heal. Halle-bloody-lujah. I could be healed. He gave me hope and I smiled for the first time in months.
I had several treatments including massage, pressure points, myofascial release and strengthening exercises. But what my knee needed most was simply time.
Time spent doing every kind of outdoor activity I could find that didn’t hurt. Time spent walking on the flat, cycling, swimming and doing yoga. Time spent resting.
And here is what I leant.
- Be patient. It can take a year or two to heal ligaments and tendons.
- Don’t give up. Your body heals itself if you feed it right, rest it well and move it lots.
- Keep searching for answers – learn everything you can about your joints. If you’re in big pain, see a sports medicine doctor or an exercise physiologist. If that doesn’t work, try sports/remedial massage, sports osteopathy, sports physio, sports chiro and anybody who works with athletes who are highly motivated to get back to moving as soon as possible. Sports health professionals get access to the latest research on healing because they are paid to get athletes back on the field as soon as possible. (And it’s cheaper than surgery!)
- If you find a professional you trust, do as they say. If they say “get off the joint”, bloody well listen.
- Don’t stop moving. Just stop movements that hurt. Listen to your body and if it hurts, don’t do it.
- Sleep at least eight hours a night, take a few naps and meditate.
- Make sure you include some yoga, pilates or stretching into your daily routine.
- Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much and include anti-inflammatory foods, such a curcumin (found in turmeric), in your diet.
- Make sure you keep getting out into nature. There’s healing powers there.
- Do your remedial exercises and don’t stop once the pain goes away. Keep focused on your technique and the correct way to walk, hike and run.
Because in the end, it’s worth it. If you continue to push your body in the pursuit of adventure, things will wear out. But if you don’t, different things stop working. Different pain starts to develop… in your heart, in your lungs, in your muscles and, most importantly, in your brain.
As Hunter S. Thompson wrote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
If you’re interested in more about healing knees, here’s a fabulous post from Outside Magazine explaining knee pain and giving you seven great exercises for relief. Also, my story about whether it’s possible to heal a broken knee in 3 weeks… it is!