A few weeks ago, I injured my left knee running. Truthfully, I didn’t injure it that day but that day a problem I’d been ignoring became severe. My left patella (kneecap) popped out of place. You’d think I would have stopped running and walked home, but I didn’t. I adjusted my kneecap back into place and continued on, feeling it pop with each stride. The following day, I attempted to run again but another painful pop convinced me to ditch my planned, treadmill workout.
It may not make sense to some that I continued running the first day or tried to run again the next, but you see, running has become the exercise I enjoy most. Not because it’s easy or that I’m good at it but because there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment I feel when a run is completed. This sense of accomplishment has helped hold back clouds of depression and steadied my journey to live a healthy lifestyle.
I’d been having issues with both my knees since forever so I dismissed the pain because I had grown accustomed to it. Over the course of a week, the pain became so acute that I began researching nonsurgical treatments. I even visited a clinic offering various types of knee injections only to discover that I was not a candidate for any of their procedures; mostly they focused on patients needing or very near needing knee replacements.
Prior to visiting the clinic, I had discussed the issue with my family doctor. He recommended physical therapy (PT), but I still chose to try the clinic–I wanted a quick fix. Since that was a fail, I decided to move forward with PT. At the first appointment, I was nervous. My armpits were moist, my heart rate was elevated, and I stuttered. Typically, I’m a wreck meeting new people or when facing new situations. Mostly I was terrified–terrified that this appointment meant the end running for me.
After a half-hour, my physical therapist began explaining two major issues causing my knee pain: 1) I have stiff
ankles. A normative range of flexion is about 10 degrees–I had 0 and 2) A weak butt. Well actually I’ve got a nice butt. It’s not round, but it’s firm and fills out my chinos nicely (chuckle). It’s actually my gluteus mediuses that are weak. The glute meds tend to be the weakest muscle in the lower body, but it’s important that these muscles be strong in runners because they support movement of the leg through the gait cycle. I adapted to these weaknesses which led to poor running form and now painful knees.
I’ve been in physical therapy for 9 weeks now. Progress is slow but steady. If I recall correctly, I now have 5 degrees of range in my left ankle and 4 in my right. I can also do a set of 15 clam shells, an exercise to strengthen the glute meds, without whimpering. I dare you to try them.
This experience with my knees revealed that I need to change how I deal with physical, mental and emotional pain. Pain is part of life, but pain that begins to hinder my movement, my loving, or my mind should not be accepted as normal or as something I deserve as punishment for shortcomings and failures. Pain is a signal that should lead to action, but for some of us, we accept it or ignore it or look for quick fixes. Avoiding dealing with pain or patching it leads to more damage and eventually, more pain. If I had taken action to deal with my knee pain early on, I could have likely avoided PT or at least needed less sessions. While I’m happy I took the steps to deal with it, I’ve had moments of frustration because I waited so long.
As I did with my knee pain, I pushed the pain in my mind and heart to the back of the cupboard. I thought that if I couldn’t see it, it wouldn’t affect me, that it would dissolve or resolve itself; it won’t. This experience with my knees has lead me to reaching past the nice, shiny parts of my life to bring forward the dark, dirty, uncomfortable stuff like my fear of being abandoned and the broken heart I’ve had since I was a boy. It’s hard–very hard to now see how these unresolved pains have held me back. At first,examining them caused great distress, but I’m hopeful. As I deal with them one-by-one, I feel my heart and mind open. Days are getting better and even when they’re difficult, it is not unbearable pain. It is simply the sweet discomfort that is part of living.