The Knee

As a septuagenarian, I am used to the idea that aches and pains are part of life.  Not that I’ve experienced many serious ones, but after intense exercise a muscle ache or a joint pain is not uncommon.  I have always thought that my aches and pains have been pretty minor, and reflect the normal stress of exercise: micro-tears in the muscle fiber, a bit of inflammation in a joint, or the like.  The universal truth is that more recovery time is needed at this time of life.  When I back off a little the recovery is easy and discernible.  In fact, these sore spots are almost always improved by exercise after recovery; they feel better after I ride again.

That’s why I was so taken aback about 12 days ago when I awoke in the pre-dawn to the feeling of severe pain in my left knee.  The day before I had ridden about 24 miles in my second time out after a week-long vacation.  I had not pushed myself very hard as I eased by stages back into more, longer, more intense rides.  I came home and felt unexpectedly good.  I had not gone too far, or gotten too intense, though I was pleasantly surprised both by my speed and my energy and strength level at the end of the ride.  Now here I was, twelve hours later, barely able to put any weight on my left leg.  The focal point was near the top of the kneecap, and apparent on top of it too, that is to say not “inside” the knee or the joint itself.  But the whole thing was very acutely sore, far, far worse than my usual low-level joint pains that I call (accurately or inaccurately)  “inflammations.”

For years I have been prone to “left-side” syndrome.  Everything that goes wrong with me seems to be on the left side of my body.  My left foot has a bunion.  My occasional gout-like symptoms are in that foot.  My left leg and top of the foot have varicose veins.  My left ankle was badly sprained about six years ago, and now that ankle is somewhat thicker than the other one, and perhaps a tad less flexible.  My left knee has tended to be the one that gets more “inflammations,” though the right one gets some too, and they arise in different places in and around each knee.  Ironically, I am left-handed, so I am more coordinated on that side of the body too.

Well, this knee inflammation was more difficult than anything of the sort that I have had to deal with.  For a couple of days I could walk only with great effort and will power.  Driving was difficult.  I had to climb stairs as if I were lame.  I could not sit in any position comfortably for very long, and even finding a comfortable sleeping position was hard.  Regular strength Ibuprofin was doing little for this, and the ice pack I used was keeping the swelling down but not decreasing the pain.  Finally, on the eve of a long Saturday drive, I discovered that soaking it in a hot bath loosened up things.  The epicenter of the pain was causing adjacent muscles to cramp up, and the heat was very relaxing.  On that Saturday I found a comfortable position for the drive, but still had trouble in sitting positions on chairs or in other cars as a passenger.  I was now taking prescription-strength Ibuprofin from an old bottle (yes, I know this does not conform to best practices), and these 600 unit bombs were starting to do the job.

Finally, by the following Tuesday, the pain was manageable, my knee was more flexible, and I had rested it enough so I started riding that Wednesday.  Now things are back to the way I expect them to be in a period when I am recovering form from a layoff.  Both knees are a little ginger right after i ride; within an hour they feel fine, and by the next day I am ready to exercise them again.  They’ll get stronger in the weeks ahead.  But I do wish I understood what happened to cause this recent very painful episode.  In recovery I had to skip riding on a couple of beautiful days, and I hate having to do that!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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