Knees

A colleague and friend responded to my inquiry about her apparent non-finish in the Marine Corps Marathon, a race run annually in D.C. in the fall.  Her name was not listed among the finishers.  “Did you have problems en route or didn’t you run this year?” I asked.  She reported that she had to pull out at mile 19 because “I ruptured my bursa sac and tore up all the ligaments and tendons in my hip.”  I’m not a specialist in hip-joint structure, though I know what bursa sacs are.  But Julia’s words alone are almost enough to evoke sympathetic pain.  And frustration: her doctor says four weeks of therapy, and 6-8 weeks of no running.  She said “I’m going nuts, as you could imagine.”  Oh, Julia, I can, I can.

Yesterday I woke up with severe pain in my right knee.  This was sudden, overnight.  I had taken a couple of days off from my aerobic exercise to do errands, rake leaves, and prepare for Thanksgiving.  Things were fine the night before.  But yesterday I could barely stand and walk.  Any muscular stress made the knee pain very severe.  Bending the right knee did too.  And bending plus stress, as when I was going up or down stairs–well, suffice it to say, OUCH!  My left knee was soon aching too, though not nearly as badly.

My leg muscles and joints have a tendency to get achy when they’ve not been exercised for a couple of days, and the joints and ligaments, tendons, and such can get inflamed every now and then.  The sure cure for such things tends to be to ride them off.  Even when the pain is fairly intense, once I have gone a few miles it’s usually forgotten.  But this one seemed too severe.  I couldn’t walk it off.  I couldn’t walk very much at all, or do anything else that required much knee bending.  In the afternoon I raked leaves to get some needed yard work done and spend some time in abnormally warm air (when 61° is “abnormally warm” you know late fall is here).  But I was moving like a septuagenarian, which come to think of it I am.  In the late afternoon I hopped on the exercise bike to see if I could get a bit of aerobic work in.  I could, but at a low level of intensity.  Every hard push on that knee brought telling pain.

I don’t worry much about illness or pain unless it affects my biking.  I get it checked out, but I don’t worry.  But I am a sheer hypochondriac about cycling injuries.  The spectre of being off the bike for a while just to rest my knee was a horrifying thought.  What if it was finally chronic knee degeneration, brought on by cycling?  Could I ever ride again?  Would I need to be accompanied by an osteopathic nurse?  Would she, a strawberry blonde like the one Casey waltzed with in the gay ’90s, ride along on an old “penny-farthing” high wheeler so she could hold the drip line high enough?  Would I just slowly transmute from bike rider to a power wheelchair operator?

So I popped two Ibuprofen last night.  This morning, still in pain.  Perhaps a little less, but not so you’d notice.  Then another Ibuprofen about 11:30, just before going out shopping–for Thanksgiving ingredients.  I was walking and medicating it off, perhaps.  When I got home about 1:30, I intended to drop the goods and head out to the wine store.  But it was 61°, another above-average temperature reading, the sky was blue, the road was calling.

In fact, when I went into the garage, my Trek distinctly said “ride me, big boy, ride me.”  This mode of address was less seductive than descriptive, I’m afraid.  So I mounted the sleek, lean, hot, blue and white machine and did about 24 miles.  There was some pain at the start, but it diminished.  By about the 13 mile mark, I could not feel any pain in either knee.  Adrenalin, I suppose.  But that pain-free ride continued to the end.  I was not at my most aggressive hammering intensity, but I was keeping up a decent pace.

At the end of the ride, once I dismounted and calculated the intensity of the ride by the speed and  time, my right knee was not painless, but very subdued.  I could do any activity, such as getting up from the sofa or bopping around the kitchen, without grimacing in pain.  If anything, things have improved since then.  The right knee is just uncomfortable enough to let me know it if I try something difficult, and the left knee is painless.

So once again the combination of moderate medication and “ride it off” works.  I feel grateful that I don’t apparently have, as Julia does, a real injury.  I’d be going nuts too, and I’m glad I don’t have to.

A day later:  even less discomfort.  I’ll give it a rest for today with no ride.  I can make virtually any movement effortlessly, and even standing up or doing the stairs is fine.  Now if I could only figure out why the pain flares up now and then . . .

[Written 11/22; finished and posted 11/23.]

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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