Monday, October 13, 2014

The time it takes to heal

Every injured active person probably fantasizes about a magical moment of recovery, when they can release all of their pent-up energy into the activity they love, and have their body respond with pain-free, powerful bursts of unhindered motion. Funny how there's no way a clean line can exist between "injured" and "all fine, 100 percent, no fitness lost and no remnants of injury at all." And yet we still sit around anticipating the moment we can cross this imaginary line, and feel frustrated when instead we find ourselves mired in gray areas.

After examining my knee and warning me about some ongoing inflammation, my doctor gave me the official okay to ride my bike. Surprising no one, I took this permission slip a little far over the weekend, logging close to a hundred hilly miles over three days on the road bike, which I justified because:

a. My orthopedic knee brace allows me to all but immobilize the joint, making the side-to-side movements that aggravate the ligament almost impossible (at the expense of nearly every other part of my leg.)

b. I'd have to do something majorly wrong to crash my bike while pedaling slowly on pavement, and if I did — especially if that crash involved a vehicle — I'd have worse problems than a bum knee.

c. Biking makes me happy. Happy!!!

d. Dr. Chiu said it was okay. (Okay, he actually didn't.)

e. Any sign of trouble, and I can call Beat and have him come pick me up. Eventually. When he returns from that awesome redwood forest trail run that I wasn't able to join, and probably won't for who knows how many more weeks or months because this knee that is okay at turning pedals still sucks at walking.

f. Hills are okay but flats are bad because I can't pedal a high cadence with my brace on, and put too much pressure on the joint when I try. So I better stick to hills.

g. I'm now nearly six weeks post-injury. That's the timeline for early returns to activity in most cases of ligament sprains/minor tears.

h. Happy!!!

The knee made it through the weekend without pain, but many muscles in each leg were significantly worse for the wear, with burning, throbbing, soreness, and other complaints that I haven't heard in a long time. On Sunday I joined Liehann and Trang, who were pedaling a tandem, as we coasted out of the mountains to the ocean and then turned around to climb back out. Temperatures were pushing close to 90 degrees in the sun, which feels especially brutal in mid-October, and declines in my fitness manifested quickly. Still, I was so thrilled just to be outside and riding my bike that I had to consciously hold back not to chase my friends on flat stretches of road, and fight the urge to relieve the searing acid pain in my legs by standing out of the saddle to chase them up hills (Right now I have to sit at all times, a riding style I'm not accustomed to, and one I've learned leads to an angry butt and quads.) I was slow, out of shape, in a decent amount of non-injury-related pain ... and I was so happy!!!

Today I had an appointment with an orthopedic massage therapist who both Beat and I like to visit when we need some realigning. He's very good. He said my whole leg was something of a mess, but worked out the tightness in my hips and demonstrated several physical therapy exercises I can do at home to strengthen the ligament-supporting tissues around my knee. This afternoon I pulled out my newly acquired yoga mat and did several sets of these exercises, along with some core work — the first day of a new strength-training regimen that I promised myself I'm going to stick with, this time.

Yes, this time I'm going to stick with tedious indoor exercises in the interest of building better balance and all-around strength. Actually, I'm quite excited about it. Of course, right now I still have that magical moment of recovery — the moment I can run again — as a still-unobtainable motivator on the horizon. That's really all I want — to move through the world, as often and for as long as I'm inclined, swift and graceful and free, without fall-induced injuries. Is that too much to ask?


  1. Jill- have you looked at something like Mountain Athlete's Leg rehab program (their site seems to be down right now) - it worked wonders for my chronic knee pain, and I was thinking it might fit nicely with the balance issues you've written about. Good luck!

  2. You don't have to do strength exercises indoors. Take your yoga mat outside!

  3. Good to know that you're on your way back to recovery. It's going to be a long, tedious journey, but just keep at it. There is always an element of time in cases like this. Just continue with your strength and conditioning exercises, but also make sure to allow your body to recuperate and repair itself. Know your limits and stick to them, so you avoid causing further damage to your knee.

    Agnes Lawson @ MedWell Spine, OsteoArthritis & Neuropathy Center


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