Knee pain, recovery and a return to the saddle

Three weeks ago yesterday I went for a run and ended up with a significant injury to my right knee. I hobbled slowly home, thanking my stars that I had only made it a half mile away. Right away I began eating Ibuprofen like candy and icing my knee about every hour.

The first two days I couldn’t walk and most of the first two nights I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. There was no position I could find that would work to get comfortable. I was miserable and planned to go see a doctor if things didn’t improve the next day. I really didn’t want to do that because my health insurance has a very high deductible and frankly, I couldn’t afford what I figured the doc would want to do. I was pretty certain that I had a meniscus tear and the first thing would be an MRI, followed by some sort of orthopedic surgery. If I could figure out some way to avoid that, my daughter could continue to go to college and we could eat. That would be nice.

On the third morning, I swung my legs off the side of the bed, stood up and the pain was much less. The reprieve only lasted an hour or so, but that gave me enough light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel to think I might just be able to make it without a $7000 financial hit.

Slowly over the course of roughly a week, I got to the point that I could get around ok. Stairs were still a problem and I would have painful bouts, especially in the evenings, but at least I could walk. It was still frustrating though. I had big plans to do a couple events this fall, but beyond that, I just wanted to be able to get around and ride. As time wore on, I was beginning to think that I would have to get used to a new normal of no riding or hiking, unless I wanted to buck up and go see an ortho.

By the end of the month, I was in pretty poor spirits. I was able to walk around fine in normal life situations, but I still struggled with stairs and had little confidence in my knee overall. One evening in the last couple days of August, I took a short walk- about a half mile. Later that night my knee throbbed. How could I get back to normal if I couldn’t even take a little hike? I just wanted to get back to my normal activities.

In the last week of August, I saw that the local bike shop had scheduled a group MTB ride at a trail just outside of town. I had a great desire to go, but the idea of getting out of the saddle to climb hills and using my legs to work the descents seemed improbable. I couldn’t imagine my knee holding up to that with the way it felt. I spoke with a few guys around town about it and made the assertion that I would try to go. As the week went on, I was pretty stressed about the idea of riding. I didn’t want to set myself back any more.

Friday evening, I decided to take a simple road ride. I would try out the knee and see what it did. If I made it through and still felt ok with it the next morning, I would try to go on the MTB ride. I did a super easy 11 miles on the road bike that evening, staying in the saddle the whole time and keeping it to the little gears. Much to my surprise, I felt really good. No discomfort in the knee. Could there be hope?

Saturday morning I woke and got ready. My plan was to start with the group and hang in the back, only doing what I thought I could. I would try to keep it in the saddle and small gears to keep the pressure down. I met the guys at 8AM and we headed into the woods.

I was super pleased that there was a guy there who never rode MTB before. He is an older gent who rides road with us regularly and he wanted to try out the trail. Of course, he was very timid and went slow, walking many parts of the trail. I hung back with him and thought it was working out perfectly for me. I had no reason to try to keep up with the others!

I took the chance a couple times to gently get out of the saddle, just to see how it felt. I was surprised, but the knee felt fine. Next was a few pedal strokes standing up. No issues. I even took a shot at climbing out of the saddle on a short climb. Once again, no problem. My confidence was starting to return.

After about a mile, the noob friend decided to bail. We were right next to a local paved bike path and he thought that was his best bet. I tried to convince him that he just needed to keep riding, but he felt very unsure and just wanted to get on the blacktop for a spin. I wished him well and latched on back of the group, as they had stopped to wait for us.

I kept it pretty simple for a time, but slowly tried to add a little more effort to the equation. Each test was successful and gave me more confidence. By midway through the ride, I was taking a few shots at full on power and climbing some hills of the harder hills out of the saddle. It felt so good to be moving and not hurting!

Here I am two days later, still feeling good about the knee, when cycling anyway. I’m not sure why, but although I still feel unsure in certain circumstances, like climbing or descending stairs, the cycling seemed to have only good effects on the knee and and pain I have felt. I am super stoked to get back to riding with a cautious eye on the joint and see how things progress. There is no way for me to be ready for the OT100 in just 30 days, but I will do what I can and see how I feel. If I can stay pain free riding some longer distances over the next few weeks, I figure I can give the OT a go. I’m good with a bit of suffering over the distance as long as the knee has its integrity. Stay tuned for updates as I prepare for my fall races!

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