I have never had a broken bone (probably shouldn’t tempt fate by saying that) or suffered any proper injury until last year. Towards the end of last year, at the end of September, I suffered a knee injury whilst cycling. I should note that it was not because of the cycling in any way just bad timing that it happened whilst on the bike.
Just a few miles into a 100 mile bike ride something went in my knee, and after being taken off by an event ambulance I was told they suspected a tear in my medial collateral ligament and that they thought I had displaced my kneecap. All I knew was that it was painful and I am not ashamed to say I cried – on the side of the road as other participants cycled past and I did not care!
My husband has private health care, that I also benefit from, and so within a fortnight I got myself an appointment to get to the bottom of it and find out what was actually going on with my left knee. I was booked in for an MRI and the results showed that luckily there was no tear therefore no surgery was needed – this was good news! That didn’t mean it was all good news. The MRI showed damage that the consultant said was as a result of a trauma – it was told to me in a way that I actually felt bad that I had traumatised my own knee, the poor knee. I was given a letter with my results and I won’t pretend I understood anything that I was being told (the medical terms sounded like a foreign language and I actually asked what it meant in English). The long and short of it was that by the kneecap displacing I had caused significant damage to the medial collateral ligament (one of the ligaments that assist with stability), there was damage to the articular cartilage of the patella, there were cysts present and damage to the overlying cortex. But as I said the good news was no fracture or actual tear.
I had already had time to RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) so now this meant I was given the all clear to continue training if I was sensible about it. Cycling was allowed as it was low impact. Running was allowed following a structured run/walk plan over a period of 14 weeks. Swimming was allowed but not breast stroke because of the movement in the knee as it could aggravate it. And most importantly if anything hurt I was to stop.
I had several physio sessions (it’s so good but my god so painful sometimes) and had a cortisone injection (again cried like a baby and spoiler alert it hurts like a bitch). I was given ‘homework’ by way of different exercises with the intention of building up the movement, strength and circulation in the muscles on the inside of my knee to help re-align everything. It was explained to me that an MCL injury can make a difference to the stability of the knee for a long time and so the recovery and rehab phase was important to be done properly to ensure the ligaments returned to their original elasticity. I was told this would be a minimum of six to eight weeks. Say what?
I was shown how to tape the knee which resulted in the tape acting as a brace and giving some much needed support during the recovery process and yes I did order some pink tape (of course). You may also notice that post exercise I smell of joint ace gel – only yesterday I met a friend who asked if I had put joint ace on as she could smell it – its my new scent (I don’t think it will catch on!).
I was determined not to let this get to me and so started to look into what I could do until I was back to normal. The obvious was to focus on other parts to train and so there was a lot done at home, upper body stuff in the gym, lots of core work and a change in my training plan. I did have to pull out of a couple of events, which was hard but absolutely the right thing to do.
So what I have learnt in dealing with an injury (purely from my experience so far) would be:
- Don’t self diagnose! If you are not a doctor, don’t try to be one. And certainly don’t google and try and work out what is wrong as it will not help in the slightest. Obviously if a minor injury I am sure common sense can prevail but if you need to get medical advice to find out if you are hurt or have an actual injury and take on board their instructions for rehabilitation as it will benefit in the long run. Huge difference between being sore and being in pain.
- It takes time – the recovery is a process and takes patience, often where your expectations may end up being very different from reality (mine were – I am an impatient cow). If you know the cause then easier to not repeat in future.
- It hurts – don’t think you can exercise your way out of an injury as you will more than likely only make it worse. Physio can play a huge part, if needed, though is not always pleasant but a necessary evil! I found I have done more stretching and yoga that I should do more regularly anyway.
- It’s frustrating – the road to recovery is long but it is worth it to avoid future set backs. It can be hard seeing people around you training and doing events you would like to do, but switch sides and be the supporter (it’s actually a lot of fun).
- Adapt – as I found I could do some of the training I did before but amended in a different way like following a run/walk plan and actually I am not hating running now whereas before I had a real love/hate relationship as I struggled through most runs so there is a silver lining. Be creative!
- Rest is also a huge part of the recovery process and without it can make healing much longer.
- Stay positive! It is so easy to feel defeated and I found I had a massive confidence knock after my injury, which can be normal and will need to be worked through. Set small goals – I booked a future event that is timed for the end of my rehab run plan so I had some forward focus.
It is now four months on and my knee is still not 100%. I had no idea it would take this long but it is what it is. Certain exercises really cause issues such as lunges are an absolute no no for me but that’s ok as I never much liked them anyway. But there is always an alternative, especially if you are in a gym or class or situation with a qualified trainer as there will be an adaptation you should be advised to follow just be sure to let them know of your injury at the outset.
Trust the process. It is difficult but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.