accessibility · inclusiveness · injury

Three stories about my knee brace

Story 1. I met a woman at the university in the Starbucks line with a bright red knee brace. I thought of my friend and co-blogger Martha Muzychka who said she’d get a bright red one if she had to have one. We chatted about the relief of knee pain, surgical alternatives, and joint replacement. She’d already had hip replacement and sounded like she wanted to avoid more surgery for awhile. She talked about lifting weights and we shared stories of leg strengthening exercises that leave the knee out of it.

Story 2. I’m still wondering why people are aghast at the knee brace and instantly see it as a bad thing. I now have some inkling of how people with wheleechairs feel about that reaction. I’ve had some many versions of this conversation.

Other person: OMG you’re wearing a knee brace. That’s horrible. When can you stop wearing it?

Me: Look at my terrific knee brace. I’ve got zero knee pain when wearing it. Watch me hop on the injured leg.

Other person: Oh.

Story 3. I was walking to the CBC the other day asking Front Street in Toronto and had to navigate my way through a crowd of baseball fans. A very happy young male Blue Jays fan says “Hey lady with the knee brace. I got one too. Up top. High five.”

Such polite sports fans. #Bluejays
What’s the brace about anyway?

Samantha Brennan's photo.

accessibility · clothing · fashion

Leggings are for life, says Sam (#leggingscanbepants, #leggingsforlife, #feministfashion)

Image result for leggings pants fighting humour

Readers know that I’m not a big fan of pants.

My main complaint is sizing. If they fit my thighs and calves, they’re enormous at the waist. See Finding clothes to fit athletic women’s bodies.

But also if I gain or lose even as little as 5 lbs, they don’t fit. So I end up with a range of sizes to cover a very small range of difference in weight.

And don’t get me going on the leg length thing. I usually have to hem pants which adds $10 or so to their price. Men’s pants seem to come in a variety of lengths but women, I guess, are all the same height.

Also don’t get my going on jeans, especially skinny jeans, which they all are on me. Aside from my yoga jeans, I might be done with jeans.

Last year I went on a leggings binge, trying lots of different kinds to find the perfect pair of plain black leggings for everyday use. I tried the full gamut from Lululemon (on sale!) to Hue to Joe Fresh. The price range was $90 (Lululemon, on sale) to $20 (Joe Fresh). The Lululemon are fine for yoga but too athletic for everyday. I’m not a big fan, especially given the price. The Joe Fresh were fine for PJs and hanging about the house but not really for work.

In the middle were the Hue leggings which I had great hopes for since I like their tights. But it wasn’t to be. They share the pants problem. The large isn’t stretchy enough for my legs. The XL falls down pretty much right away.

When friends who play roller derby recommended a Canadian brand I was intrigued. They’re also middle of the road price wise. And made in Canada.

ZENITH Leggings

Nice. I’m trying not buy stuff made in countries with sketchy labour laws. See this post for my call for ethical fashion. I struggle with sports clothes in particular.

Even without the “made in Canada” bonus point, they were my favourite. I’m setting out now to order more. They are high waisted, they stay up, and they work for either the gym or the office.

(For working out in my favorite leggings are by SuperfitHero, available in a very wide range of sizes.)

Why I am blogging about leggings now? My knee brace, above. That’s my snazzy custom fit, zero pain knee brace. But it’s causing a bit of a fashion crisis. It needs to be tight against my legs. I can either wear skirts and tights or leggings. No pants. Well, I could wear really wide leg pants and wear it under I guess. That’s what men do. But that’s not my thing.

Dresses and skirts need to fall either above the brace (very short) or below (very long). With short skirts I’m happiest in leggings so that’s what I am doing these days

So now I’m one of those people wearing leggings for all of the things.

Until summer (if it ever comes) and then I’m back to bike shorts under skirts.


What’s this knee brace all about anyway?

So I have severe osteoarthritis. There’s not much cartilage left in my knees and you don’t grow anymore. So that’s it. There’s no fixing the underlying problem.

What’s the causal story? I didn’t wear it out. It’s not all about weight. Lots of thin people have osteoarthritis. Mostly it’s bad genetic luck. That said, it would be easier on my knees if I weighed less. #lifegoals? I’d like to be a small person rather than a big person but I know of no way to make it so. Even at my smallest, I’m not really small.

Oddly enough while my knees look the same on the MRI and x-ray, only the left knee has been causing me pain.

I could get a knee replacement. I meet the criteria. But I’m young (and replacement knees don’t last that long) and I’m super active on my bike. The surgeon says he can’t promise full range of motion. So no to that for now.

There’s another surgical alternative, High Tibial Osteotomy. My surgeon says it’s recommended for younger, active patients. (I like that description.)

“Osteotomy literally means “cutting of the bone.” In a knee osteotomy, either the tibia (shinbone) or femur (thighbone) is cut and then reshaped to relieve pressure on the knee joint. Knee osteotomy is used when a patient has early-stage osteoarthritis that has damaged just one side of the knee joint.”

That’s me. It’s my medial meniscus or the absence thereof that causes pain. That’s the inside of my knee.

See here.

“A high tibial osteotomy is generally considered a method of prolonging the time before a knee replacement is necessary because the benefits typically fade after eight to ten years. This procedure is typically reserved for younger patients with pain resulting from instability and malalignment. An osteotomy may also be performed in conjunction with other joint preservation procedures in order to allow for cartilage repair tissue to grow without being subjected to excessive pressure.”

But for now, I am trying the unloading knee brace. Like the surgery above it works by taking pressure off the part of the joint where there is direct rubbing of bone on bone.

The journal literature says that braces work but that few people, especially women, actually wear the brace. I find that shocking but also not given the number of women who run at night or work out in sheds because they are embarrassed about how they look.

Right now I’m highly motivated since things hurt a lot without the brace and not at all with the brace. I find the absence of pain and the ability to walk pretty motivating.

Here’s what the website says about the brace, “Unloader Custom is a robust solution to relieve the challenging pain typically associated with knee osteoarthritis. With a choice of twelve unique colors and a range of plus-sizes, this brace is suited for high impact and heavy-duty activities. Take control of the pain, and add a little color to your life.”

I went for shiny black. No pink knee brace for me.

How do they work? “Unloader knee braces unload the affected, painful side of the knee using a 3-Point Leverage System. The thigh and calf shells account for two points of leverage, while the Dynamic Force Strap (the diagonal strap above the knee) provides the third. This system “unloads” the pressure from the affected area, providing a reduction in pain.”

There are some practical challenges that come with wearing the brace. Skirts, it seems, do best when they’re really long or very short. It fits well over leggings. But it won’t fit under my pants. No more jeans for now.

It’s also time consuming to put on and take off.

The biggest challenge, though not for me, would have to be cost. This thing costs $1600. My benefits cover it. But without benefits that’s a big chunk of change. I guess if the literature is right that fewer than 20% of people who get braces end up wearing them, maybe it’s not cost efficient for the government to pay for them.

Also, people tend to act very alarmed when they see the brace and make their dislike clear. How long do you have to wear that for? I know they’re just upset about my knee condition and they’re not upset with me but it feels confusing. For me the brace is pretty liberating. No more pain. Yes, I’d rather I didn’t have osteoarthritis. Of course. But given that I do, I’m glad to have this choice.

Bonus: I don’t need to wear it riding the bike.

A few friends, including the kids, told me to play up the Borg angle. You will be assimilated.

aging · disability · injury · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the March version

What’s up? Obviously my wonderful holiday complete with swimming and biking.

Biking on Bora Bora
Biking on Bora Bora
Swimming in the South Pacific

There’s also our book. That’s exciting!

Fit at Midlife

In the middling category, I was fitted for a custom unloading knee brace. See here for a knee update. I considered flashy red but in the end went with matt charcoal. I’ll actually start wearing it in April and I’ll report back then.

An X-ray showing osteoarthritis of the knee. Getty Images

Knee brace. Bulky but if it helps with pain and lets me hike again, I’ll wear it.

In the bad news dept I’m still driving back and forth to London each week getting the house ready to sell and then looking at houses in Guelph. It’s not really bad news, just hard to get time in for exercise these days. But it’ll be short lived. House goes on the market here in just three weeks. I’m really looking forward to riding my bike in Guelph.

In the meantime I’m still doing lots of knee physio and personal training.

That little taste of riding in French Polynesia has me anxious to get my bike out and start riding.

First up, the Tour de Guelph in June.

My next planned thing after that is the one day version of the bike rally.

On July 29, 2018 I will be cycling 108km in the very first PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally from Toronto to Port Hope to raise money and awareness for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA).

PWA provides practical support programs and services to people in Toronto living with HIV/AIDS. The Bike Rally is their annual sustaining fundraiser and critical to the agency. Find out more about PWA by visiting their website at I’m going to need all the support I can get to reach my fundraising goal and I hope I can count on you. Make a secure online donation using your credit card by clicking on the link to my personal fundraising page below:

Thanks for listening!

A pretty white bike against a yellow wall with a wooden basket and flowers. Thanks Unsplash.