Having had the good sense to retire from organized football in the 9th grade, I have been blessed for most of my 57 years with relatively pain-free knees– until recently! By most standards, I’ve had a remarkably long and injury-free amateur athletic career.
For many years I have been playing basketball three or more times a week year-round, and tennis twice a week in the summer. I’ve also enjoyed skiing a few times every winter. Not bad for a guy who is border-line obese, at least according to every method of calculating body mass I’ve ever seen.
Over the years I’ve had only one really serious sports injury. In 1980 I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing squash and had to have it surgically repaired. That led to a long period of rehabilitation, after 10 weeks in a cast. I’ve had recurring bouts of Achilles tendinitis since, but nothing that has stopped me from pursuing an active sporting life.
As the years have progressed, I have accumulated a nice collection of practically every athletic brace made. To do battle on the basketball court, I routinely don two ankle braces, two knee braces and at least one hamstring wrap to keep my legs under me. For my arms, I wear a brace for each of my tennis elbows, and two protectors for my arthritic thumbs. Without the invention of Velcro I would have been forced into athletic retirement years ago.
In many cases, I started wearing a particular brace after a minor injury and then kept wearing it out of a combination of prevention and superstition even after the injury had healed. For many years I have worn simple elastic knee braces in the belief that it helped warm up the joint and prevent injury.
That seemed to be working until about two weeks ago. I didn’t feel any dramatic injury, like when my Achilles gave way like a rifle shot, but gradually became aware that my right knee was getting increasingly painful, especially when I tried to pivot on it. Finally it reached the point where attempting my patented spin move produced a sharp stabbing pain, that was strong enough to cause me to cry out and make me feel like my knee might give out.
For the last two weeks, I have been forced off the courts and into the traditional regime of sports injuries called R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). I have also imbibed a good number of anti-inflammatory medications, bathed in Icy-Hot, learned new stretches, and of course, bought myself a fancier knee brace with metal hinges.
All of this has helped a lot, and I am now able to function normally in every arena except the athletic one. I have also gone through about a dozen possible self-diagnoses and, with the help of the Internet, learned a whole new medical glossary. Who knew the knee was so complicated?
The pain is mainly on the lateral (out) side, especially around the head of the fibula (that little bony knob at the bottom of the knee.) Do I have torn meniscus? IT Band syndrome? a strained LCL ligament? or perhaps a overworked biceps femoris tendon? Or maybe all of the above? With the help of Google, I keep changing my diagnosis every few days.
Lately as the knee pain has subsided, I’ve noticed that my upper calf muscle (the Gastrocnemius) is also very sore. Is that a clue? Later today I hope to get the answer from a real medical professional, although secretly I’m afraid I already know what the problem is: I’m old and overweight and my body just can’t take the stress anymore!
The fact that this weekend is my 40th high school reunion is as good an indicator as any. I’m sure I will spend most of the weekend swapping stories of sports injuries and arthritic problems. Not that I’m complaining. (I know, nobody would listen if I did!)
I’ve been lucky and I’ve had a good run– and with a little more patience (the one commodity in shortest supply), and a lot more Velcro, I will probably be able to return to my beloved courts soon. And that’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative!