Trying to be whole with a bum knee

My right knee has been badly damaged since March 2009, when I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) doing a freak manoeuvre at the gym. I was running  fairly well again by October 2009 in spite of my “missing link”, but my leg always felt unstable. In November 2009, while jogging downhill after a hard workout, my leg gave out beneath me without warning.  swiftly and brutally wrenching my knee. Now I had torn cartilage in addition to a torn ligament, and my running future seemed dim, in fact non-existent.

I was lucky to squeeze into surgery early in January 2010. I consoled myself that winter was the best time to be crippled. I only missed two days of working out completely; two days after surgery I hobbled into the gym on crutches and did what I could.

By late April I was walk/jogging, and throughout May, June and July I increased my running distance and speed ever so gradually, usually jogging/running three times a week. My knee still didn’t feel normal and I didn’t have a complete range of motion, but it was gradually improving. My fitness was quite good from intense sessions on the Arc trainer at the gym, and the day I ran three mile repeats in about 6:30, I started to believe I could be a good runner again. That pace didn’t push me nearly to my limit; it was my knee mechanics that were still holding me back.

For the past three weeks, I haven’t been able to run or jog at all. While on vacation in Toronto and at a cottage up north, I was forced to run on pavement. My knee basically blew up on me after an easy run. It got all swollen and it is now obvious from the feel and sound of things that I have more torn cartilage. I saw my orthopedic surgeon a few days ago and he agreed that is  likely what is wrong. However, I have to have another MRI done before he can decide what my treatment options are. He told me that after an operation like the one he did on me in January, perhaps 1-2% of patients experience additional cartilage damage after surgery. My luck ran out on this one, I guess.

My challenge to myself is: How can I feel whole again? How can I reconcile my core runner’s identity, my love of the rhythmic, effortful motion of running with my inability to even walk smoothly? It’s a terrible thing, psychologically…to wake up every day and feel that huge lump inside my knee, to stand up and feel a weakness and “something” slipping and sliding in there. I’ve always been able to trust the speed and power of my body, and suddenly I don’t have that anymore. When I have to walk down stairs or down a slope, I’m a cripple who hobbles. Yet inside, I’m still an athlete. I want to be, so badly.

The way I cope psychologically is by realizing that I don’t want to be unhappy permanently, or even for more than the briefest of times. That means adjusting to reality, adjusting physically and psychologically to the fact that I can’t run. For me, that means redefining myself as another kind of athlete. Can I find my mind/body wholeness again by being a gym rat, or a cyclist, or a swimmer? See further posts for my answers.

About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
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2 Responses to Trying to be whole with a bum knee

  1. Allan says:

    Hey there.

    My Name is Allan and I have been into a ACL surgery last march/12.
    Yesterday it was a glorious day once i re-started running on treadmills again after months. I felt great about it. It’s only been 14 weeks and i look foward for the next half marathon which will happen on 28 weeks after the surgery…don’t know if i can but I will try, obviously, i will talk to my doctor before.

    How are you these days?

  2. nancytinarirunswrites says:

    Hi Allan,

    You are doing well to be running so soon after surgery. Don’t rush it too much! I hope your knee is good now and you are able to do your half marathon as planned.
    My ACL surgery was successful in terms of giving me back my knee stability. Unfortunately, before I had my surgery done I had several bad falls which did extensive cartilage damage. In January 2011 I had all my cartilage removed, and my surgeon told me I had very advanced arthritis in the knee and I wouldn’t be able to run anymore.
    As you might notice from some of my more recent blog articles, I am still able to run an easy 5K once or twice a week and I greatly enjoy those runs. I’m not in pain, but my knee is uncomfortable after running so I know I can’t push it very much.

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