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
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