Sigh. Last winter I hurt my left knee running on snow and ice. No dramatic injury but lots of pain. At its worst I couldn’t walk up and downstairs at all, sleeping was tricky, and I woke up every morning in pain. I left soccer, quit running, took a leave of absence from CrossFit and cut back on Aikido. Luckily cycling was just fine. Phew.
I started physio. Did lots and lot of glute strengthening exercises and a bunch of stability work. It got better. No more pain going up and down stairs, a slow return to jogging with my dog, and now I’m back regularly at Aikido (with plans to test even!) and slowly returning to CrossFit.
All good, right? Not so fast. I was on a waiting list for an MRI but since I work at a university campus with a hospital right there I was on their short call list. That’s the list for people who can make it for a canceled appointment in 15 minutes or less. I’d been thinking of canceling the appointment. I’m busy and I hate to waste in demand health care resources. But when the phone rang, I said I’d be there in ten minutes. I’ll run over, I said. “Really?” asked the nurse. “Is that wise?” I said I’d walk fast instead.
After a lovely afternoon snooze in the MRI (not so bad really when your head can stick out) I went back to work. A few days later the phone rang. It was my doctor’s office and they thought I needed to come in to discuss the MRI.
My doctor looked shocked when she saw me. “You’re walking fine? ” Yes, why wouldn’t I be? “Well, your MRI. It’s bad. Aren’t you in pain?”
I should pause and say that I have a wonderful doctor. We know each other well. She likes the blog! So the frankness is just fine.
She said there’s “a lot going on” with my knee. It’s kind of a mess. But most worrying is the “severe cartilage degradation.” That sounds bad. And apparently it is. You can’t grow new knee cartilage. But I was kind of fascinated by the gap between her reading of the results and my experience. I’m jogging with my dog sometimes, doing Aikido lots, getting back to CrossFit. All without pain. She’s referred to me to a knee surgeon to discuss my future and sent me back to physio. Given that I’m fine now I’m unlikely to agree to knee surgery but there is a wait for an appointment so I’ll keep this one in case anything changes. Fine.
Physio dude wasn’t so shocked. I showed up on his doorstep with the MRI results. I wanted to know what I should stop doing in light of these results.
“Nothing,” he said. “Run. Do martial arts. Ride your bike lots. Lift weights. Whatever.”
He went on: “Lots of research shows it’s not activity that causes cartilage degradation and inactivity is worse for it. Keep moving.”
“One thing though, soccer. How much do you love it?”
The thing is, I play rec league soccer for fun. I like the teamwork and I love the company. But I’m not good at it and it’s not my favourite thing. I can imagine a different life where I’d started earlier but I’m very late in life to soccer. See Indoor Soccer, Team Sports, and Childhood Regrets.
So I’ve agreed to part ways with soccer. Given the lack of cartilage it’s too risky. There’s too much stopping and starting and changing directions, all hard on knees.
One final thing: I was fascinated in my conversation with physio dude about his observations about MRIs. He claims that in his experience, and research backs it up, that there is very little correlation between how things look on an MRI and the knee pain and immobility that patients experience. Some people have incredible pain and limited mobility but their MRI doesn’t look too bad. Other people, like me, have really grim MRIs, but are running and jumping without pain. I’m off to find out more. In the meantime, I’ll be running and biking and doing CrossFit but no more soccer for me.