Sam finds she isn’t alone in rehab purgatory

Sam’s busted knee on ice

I was feeling down about my knee and all the not-moving I’ve been doing. Also, pain is hard. So sitting on the sofa, icing my knee, I picked up my phone and posted to Facebook and complained about it. Two other friends, it turned out, have similar knee issues.

Later, I posted again: “Two different friends are going through similar knee things. I don’t know whether this makes me feel better or worse. I’m getting old but not I’m alone? Sigh.”

Turns out that two was a radical underestimate. More than a dozen friends chimed in about their experiences with injuries, chronic conditions, physiotherapy, and rehab. Thanks friends! I guess. Sorry you’re in my shoes. We had a great discussion and I felt better after. I asked people who wanted to share their thoughts in a group blog post the following questions: What’s one lesson you’ve learned? One piece of advice you’d give others?

Alexis: “I love this! I would say that the main thing I’ve learned from repeated injuries is that our bodies are sites for care – being injured really illuminates for me how many people around me are living in a lot of physical pain, all the time, and that makes me amazed at how kind, competent, and generous they are even under that kind of pressure. So it’s cheesy, but having injuries has helped me think about extending care to myself and others as a more general way to be in the world. Some injuries heal, but some don’t, and we can’t tell which ones will or how they’ll transform, so adopting an attitude of patience and a practice of not-despairing-yet is good.” (Regular injuries include dislocated sacro-iliac joint from deadlifting too heavy while too tired, IT-band pain when running in non-minimalist shoes, and Achilles tendon pain when running to far in minimalist shoes. Teacher, functional potter, meditator.)

Sam watching American Dad while icing her knee

Sandi: “During the off season, I lift weights but don’t do anything else. I’m hoping my lack of yoga and stretching is my problem, and not my age. I was cleaning out my closet and trying on jeans when I tweaked my knee. I’m making assumptions that its just patellofemoral pain so have been rolling my quadriceps. I’m thinking yoga might have to be the next step.” (Sandi is an IT consultant who spends too much time sitting at a desk and Highland Games athlete in her off hours.)

Dani: “I’ve been thinking a lot about your blog idea about injuries and joint issues. I think injury recovery has a bit of privilege involved in it. Not only does there need to be financial privilege of having benefits or the ability to pay for treatment but also the privilege of having time to recover from the injury or joint issue. I routinely have injuries and or joint issues but because of what I do I don’t have the ability to take the time to heal. I’ve stopped going to the doctors for injuries because they’ll tell me to rest, but I have 12+ horses that rely on me for daily care…so I rely on Tommy Copper clothes, Alleve and topical treatments…oh and Dr.Ho.” (Dani is a horsewoman who puts her horses health above her own.)

Alison R: ” “Let it rest” is almost as hard as “do this painful physical therapy.” I have had to do both in my life. But whenever a piece of us is broken, I find it helpful to remember–and to use!–the pieces that are not. Knee or ankle injury? Keep doing upper body and core, or sitting leg lifts. Shoulder or elbow injury? You might have to give up running, but walking and leg day and core are still options. I don’t say this because I am obsessed with exercise. I say this because it feels bad, when one is injured and active but told to let the injury rest, to not be active. Ask your doc or PT if it will impair healing to exercise in other ways with the rest of your body. And it feels bad, when one is generally active, to do painful PT. So finding non-painful ways of still enjoying your body and being active can really help make it through the bad bits. “Let it rest” and “do this painful PT” can be miserable enough. Those of us who enjoy moving can still find ways to do it even with injury, with input from the medical professionals who are helping us out.” (Alison is a hiker, recovering soccer player, occasional runner, and person who enjoys lifting heavy things.)

Sarah R: “I’m a 45 year active female too young for knee replacement, but want my activity level back. One lesson I’ve learned about rehab after injury is that you need to be patient; most times recovery is slow and painful. But if you do what the professionals say you will get back to your activities. Some advice is to always stay flexible and to add variety to your activities to keep all ligaments, muscle groups strong in the joint.”

Ruth: “If you do anything that involves sprinting (football, basketball, soccer, actual sprinting) you will eventually pull a hamstring. I’ve been sprinting for my whole life, so I’m pretty lucky that this has only happened a couple of times. Mostly what I have learned is that unless something is broken, most of the time you have to heal on your own. The ER can’t really do anything for even a bad sprain, so you have to ice it, rest it, and take post-surgical doses of ibuprofen (even though I have never had surgery in my life, unless you count a colonoscopy). You can almost always do *something* when you have an injury. So I took a couple of days off and then started with walking on the treadmill. By day 4 I was back at kettlebells with modifications. I need 5-6 workouts a week to feel normal, so my main goal was *don’t break the chain*. Keep moving. Even with a bad hamstring pull, you can do planks, ski-erg, pull-ups and chin-ups, bench press. If you talk yourself into thinking there is only *one* sport for you, you will be in a lot of trouble. If it isn’t an acute injury, you will eventually get an overuse injury, so be prepared to change it up.” (I am a philosopher, tree farmer, and lifelong runner. I like team sports but not contact sports, so other than running, I’ve played squash and tennis. Lately I run, snowshoe run, row (on water and the erg) and do kettlebells. I would like to hike all of the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains.)

Lori: “Lesson learned from a bad hamstring injury a couple of years ago: take rest seriously, and don’t identify too closely with one sport or activity; fitness is about being flexible to give your body exercise in ways that work. I took up swimming and took a break from running when I had the above injury, and it was great–grew to love swimming.” (Lori is a runner who is aspiring to do more yoga, who loves activity that is outdoors and challenges her in a variety of ways: balance, strength, agility. Movement makes her happy.)

Vanessa: “Well, this is a re-injury. I had surgery 10 years ago. I’m not sure what I could have done to avoid it the first time other than “don’t fall skiing” and the second time as “don’t slip on an elementary school gymnasium during indoor ultimate frisbee. But I suppose corresponding lessons would be make sure the release pressure on your skiis properly corresponds to your weight (I had lost some weight at the time I went skiing and it didn’t pop off as it was supposed to) and for the gymnasium, wear running shoes with good traction?” (Vanessa is a newly thirty writer/editor who categorizes herself as a cyclist, traveller, and plant-based foodie.)

Susie: “I took up swimming after blowing out my right knee 4 years ago. Tore the meniscus while reaching up to put a box on a shelf. No one had ever told me I needed to maintain my knees. Decided to forgo surgery in favour of physiotherapy. The physio told me to get in the pool and drag my bad leg along until it was able to move. Joined a masters’ swim club, and the knee continues to improve. Which is great, because I really hated not going skijoring in the winter with the dogs, and hiking in the summer. Advice: non-weight bearing exercise is your friend, to help rebuild the knee.” (Hobbies: Sailing in the summer, skijoring in the winter, and swimming all year round. I love my Bob, my boys and my border collies.)

Jennifer: “What I am learning is how random the incidents seem to be that cause knee issues for so many! Dancing furiously? Chasing a lover around the bed? Going down a mountain too quickly after hiking up? Check, check and check. Random! Then a huge learning curve to figure out what to do. As a 50-something who suffers from gravity’s inexorable push, I am beginning to think knee probs are a rite of passage for the fifth decade or so.” (Jenn is an old-school community reporter learning new fangled ways in stunning, Chilliwack B.C. and dreaming of one day climbing its highest peaks. But not with these knees.)

Jody: ‘My knee injury is a result of osteoarthritis worsening over years of physical labour and finally a yoga move without direction. What I have learned is you can come back from an injury even after years of no treatment and the advice I’d share is to accept where you’re at and be patient with yourself.” (Aspiring writer of random thoughts, star gazer, mother, and somebody’s grandmother. A woman warrior of many a challenge and misadventure who refuses to give in.)

What’s your injury/rehab story?

What’s one lesson you’ve learned? One piece of advice you’d give others?

Add your voices below!

Photo by Meiying Ng on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Sam finds she isn’t alone in rehab purgatory

  1. Among the best pieces of advice I received while rehabbing from injury was “sometimes you just need help.” (Thanks to my wonderful chiropractor Sharon Gdanski.) She didn’t just mean in rehabbing an injury, through seeking “professional” help, though many of us are reluctant to do this too. I think she meant help with “the business of living” while we are otherwise injured or unwell. Why are we so reluctant to ask for help when we are clearly overwhelmed or hurt or ill? Friends and family almost always offer; I bet most of us say “oh, thanks so much. I’m fine.”

  2. Like all of you, I am constantly managing the aftereffects of multiple athletic injuries. My featured vulnerable part these days is my left shoulder/scapula area. I have a bone spur and partial rotator cuff tear (latter from mountain bike crash), and for 3 months, I’ve had shoulder and neck pain while driving or typing. I’m finally going to the orthopedist tomorrow, although at this point it seems to be waning. Still, PT is in my future (always). I’ve found that yoga helps a lot. Doing planks and downward dog don’t hurt my shoulder at all, nor do the other poses or flow routines. For me, the biggest physical challenges are in doing things that require being in one position– driving is really not fun these days, and working on my computer for very long also hurts. So I’m trying to incorporate more movement into computer work– short breaks often– and driving less when I can.

  3. My 18th year was not a good year. In January of that year, I broke my humerus the first time I went skiing – a really impressive spiral fracture; I still have the x-rays. Just after the cast came off, I slipped on some ice, landed squarely on my elbow, and felt the bones collapse underneath me. That led to metal plates and screws being put in (and later taken out of) my arm. That June, I fell off a ladder and broke my wrist. That October, I blew out my knee on a trampoline – torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus. These injuries led to some serious hip and lower back issues, including a 6-week period during my PhD when I couldn’t stand straight. I’ve had significant periods of time where a very supportive husband has had to drive me to hospitals and appointments, do all the heavy lifting around the house (literally and figuratively), help me get dressed and undressed, and help me lie down, sit up/down and stand up.

    I’ve tried to find physical activity that works with my injuries, but almost everything sets something off, so these days, I have to settle for (very gentle) yoga, and (not-so-challenging) walks. I’d like to live a more adventurous lifestyle, but I tend to re-injure myself every time I try something new.

    Since I was a student for most of this time – and since I’m still (somewhat) precariously employed – I’ve moved around the country a lot, and so have only rarely managed to settle in with any particular physiotherapist or massage therapist or chiropractor. I’ve been fortunate to have (better and better) coverage for these services over the years; I worry what will happen if I can’t find another position with good health benefits.

    Like Alexis, these experiences have given me a whole new appreciation for what folks who deal with physical pain more severe and/or more long-term than my own are going through and how they manage through it. I try to show myself the same care and consideration I (try to) extend to them, but it’s tough. My advice to folks who do get injured and are fortunate enough to be able to access physiotherapy services, which I’m better at giving than taking, is to do the damn exercises, no matter how tedious they are and no matter what else you’ve got on your to-do list. I regret not following the advice of these professionals when I was younger. Taking the time to do the exercises now will pay off in the long run, so hold out for that proverbial second marshmallow.

  4. Funny thing… I’m reading this after a night of agony with my sacro-iliitis, here in England in a friend’s flat. I had to evict him from his bed so I could sleep in it (he took my sofa) because the sofa was making things infinitely worse.

    I’ve got SI as part of my auto-immune joint condition, Ankylosing Spondilitis. I have a great rheumatologist and good drugs. I use varied exercise (cycling, lifting, yoga, swimming) to keep things moving in different directions and not overload the joints injured in running (including the SI – this all first emerged in 2003 when I ran every day during the infamous blackout of that year, in shoes that were not built for intensive running).

    But this time I think the SI is back because of the following: general soreness last week + overnight flight + long (probably too-long) walk to stave off jet lag + swim with some ill-advised breast stroke. I don’t think I could have known better; I did all the things I normally do to keep the flare-up contained, but I think I may have hit a perfect storm with the air travel.

    One thing I’ve learned over the years is not to hide the SI; I used to be embarrassed hobbling around the office but not anymore. Today I have to fly to Zurich to give a workshop, and when I arrive I will identify with my hosts as temporarily disabled, and ask for assistance whenever necessary. I’ll be my cheery self but I will not smile through the pain. I’ll describe it as well as I can and remind any startled young people how important it is to take care of your joints, and identify chronic pain early so that you can be hooked up with the correct specialists. My rheumatologist is a goddess!

    Keep on icing, Sam!

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