Sometimes we go on about making the life of your dreams, of pushing yourself and doing amazing things. But hey, life doesn’t always work out the way you planned but that doesn’t mean that attitude or dreams change. This post is about realness! No unforgettable mountain views or dream like scenes floating above the alps. But a swollen knee, a post puke selfie and tired smile!
I also have to say of all the crazy things we have done this year, running off mountains with just a canopy to keep us alive, hanging off a steal cable 2000ft in the air…this was the scariest thing of them all! Not only are you trusting someone to fix you but also keep you alive, going under always freaks me out!
So…My wonky knee!
An amazing 2015
Have you ever had to overcome anything similar?
Ok, this is the bit where it might get a bit long, so you can opt out here! But I decided to keep a bit of a recovery diary down here so I can look back and how far I have come but also so you can see where I am at!
1st Nov (One month post op)
After 4 weeks on crutches completely non weight bearing I started to walk and put weight on it, this was scarier than I ever expected it to be. I still used the crutches for support and didn’t feel ready to put all my weight through what was now a significantly weaker leg. My Thigh muscle was around 2 inches thinner on my left leg than my right and my hamstring also very tight and weak. The hardest part was trusting my new ligament without having the back up of a strong leg like I had had before. I realised at this point that I would need a further 2 weeks off work as walking unaided felt so far away. However, I did start going to the gym and stepping up my rehab and conditioning. I have been doing my set exercises 3 times a day as well as a pretty gruelling press up and crunches routine. I also ate a lot healthier during my time being laid up. During this month part of the difficulty is being indoors so much, even walking to the shop around the corner on my crutches is hard work and the prospect of slipping quite scary. It does rock your confidence quite a lot, you feel pretty exposed and even everyday things are a challenge. It gives you a bit of perspective to what disabled people go through. My Gran has had to come around everyday and make my lunch! I have however got a hell of a lot done on my blog, researched loads for travelling next year, signed up for a TEFL and even written a lot of notes for a future P.hD!
All week I had tried to put more and more weight through my leg and had even walked a little without the crutch whilst using my dad as support. It felt painful and really freaked me out to be honest. Just shuffling the length of the kitchen whilst clinging to someone was scary! The physio I had seen was not brilliant to be honest and I did feel a little behind because of the lack of info I got. However I do know my surgery is very rare and with no protocol I think she was playing it cautious. I did however progress to using only one crutch, at first this felt pretty awful but I did feel stronger for it. I also had gone to the gym almost every day and not only did my leg feel better but I was glad to be working on general conditioning again, although I felt quite strong from my press up and crunches routine. We also went out into Manchester to watch Spectre and have a nice meal, It was so good to get back out again although we didn’t really walk too much in the crowded centre!
This week I finally started to walk again on my own. I left it until the morning I was due to see the physio again, this time a different one who really pushed me much further. I was limping heavily whilst walking and often hyper extending which felt pretty grim, I had to fight the same type of sensations I got when my knee cap used to come out. My body and mind had got that used to going into protection mode as soon as I felt that! I had upped it at the gym quite a lot and felt much fitter and stronger. Even just getting on the pull up bar made me feel so much closer to being able to climb again! Still, the idea of going back into work next week feels scary and I still feel unsteady when I walk. This week was the first time I really got upset and it all got to me. After seeing the physio I felt like I was really behind on where I should be despite be putting in as much effort as I could. I felt like if I had known some of the stuff he told me a few weeks back I could have been further on. I will be seeing him again in two weeks and I am not even more focused on what I need to be able to do my then.
First few days back in work and my knee is aching quite a lot, maybe that is a good thing though as just walking is helping build my strength back up. Stairs are a challenge but I always take them instead of the lift and use my bad leg on every step to help build it up. It got quite icy this week though and that didn’t help my confidence, although still limping I feel like I am getting better at walking every day. I did worry that being back in work would stop me with my daily rehab but I have been to the gym as many times as I could and feel more focused now on what I need to do. We went into Manchester again this weekend and even in with the crowds, although I was a little slow I managed to cope quite well.
Two weeks after seeing the physio I was back this week and keen to show him how far I had come. I was able to do the one leg squats, balance on one leg and almost fully straighten my leg, my flex in my knee was only around 5 inches off my good knee too. He was pleased with my progress and said I back to where I should be which really made me feel like I was back on track to starting light indoor climbing again in the new year or even over Christmas. I am also finally starting to see some shape come back into my leg too although my hamstring is still falling behind. I mentioned that when doing my hamstring rehab I am cramping up so much I can’t push it as far as I wanted. So I am booked in for a sports massage next week to alleviate the tension. He also said I am ready for the lower limb class and will be going every week now for 5 weeks. I am still limping and the joint does still feel tight and achy but I feel more like I am not thinking about walking as much and doing in more naturally. I have also really been enjoying the gym, not only for my leg but going pull ups, bike, rower and weights too. Generally I do feel much fitter and stronger but I am so eager to get back climbing. Now I have to make sure I push myself but stay patient too and not get ahead of myself!
3rd Dec (2 months post op)
10 Dec 2015
23 Dec 2015
It has been a little while since my last update as things have been moving a lot slower and progressions in many ways smaller. I climbed for the first time just after christmas and did so on top rope…which means with the rope above so you can’t really fall anywhere. I was a little nervous with my foot placements at first but ended up climbing some quite hard stuff. I have been another few times after that and just last weekend I was absolutely buzzing to not only lead something for the first time again but I tried out a climb which was only 1 grade lower than my hardest and did it first go. I wasn’t really nervous climbing now as I just concentrated on climbing rather than my knee. I think climbing is the best way to gauge how I am doing as it is easier for me to compare how I was and how I now. Going to the gym three times a week means I have kept my strength up too for climbing and only lack a little bit of stamina in my forearms. My strength and tone in my leg is getting much more noticeable now and it does feel strong. When I ask shorty to do some of my one leg physio he struggles when I don’t which is a good sign! I am now in the advanced lower limb class at physio which is much more demanding, I’ve only got around 3 weeks left there though so I am a little worried about stopping going. I am still struggling to run and feel I still have a slight limp when walking that is only really noticeable to me but when I run it really is exaggerated. My physio has been pushing me to keep trying and although it feels quite scary I am improving and have done a bit of jogging around the class. The knee in itself goes feel stronger but it doesn’t feel “normal” yet. It truly is hard for me to know what normal is after is being damaged for so long but I know it isn’t there yet. It is still stiff and feels a little bit jerky when I go down steps. I can bend it to about an inch off my bum when I stretch and warm but but that does feel painful. I can’t fully kneel down because of that and I am not sure when that pain will go away, it does seem to be slowly getting easier but when pushed to its max without being warm it is very sore. I think also my confidence is not where I want it to be either, part of that I think it just that the knee doesn’t feel normal and when it does maybe I will find it easier to get it out of my head. I am hoping to get outdoors climbing in the next couple of weeks and maybe try and do a mountain if we can organise it. I feel like I really need these sorts of challenges now so I can start to push myself again and test it out. I think these will go a long way to building my confidence. Not only that but I really do need to get out and climb or have an adventure. I feel like I have been stuck in for so long!!
5th September: 11 month update:
I haven’t updated in a while how my knee is and I am hoping that maybe someone else out there who had the questions and doubts I did in the lead up and recovery can follow these updates and see how this process goes. So, 11 months on and things are very different to what they were, in some ways things are different to what I expected and in some they are better.
I maybe finished my physio a little early but we were heading off backpacking (in April). I had by that time a lot more confidence but I still wasn’t quite were i wanted to be to be honest. I was still walking with a slight limp and I couldn’t run. I was almost getting to the point where I though I might always walk like this and never run again. It bothered me a little but I though well I can live with that. I had climbed a little since my operation and when I was climbing on ropes I actually forgot about my knee and felt normal again. However I had a bit of a mental block with bouldering again too.
I was determined that my knee wouldn’t hold me back when backpacking and that I would just go for things. I did a lot of hiking, canyoning, paragliding and everything I had set myself out to to. We walked so much that I really tried to make sure I was walking properly and strengthening my knee in doing so. I couldn’t keep up with my physio on the road as I would have liked but all that walking made up for that. By the end of the 4 months I had lost my slight limp and felt totally normal.
So. Where am I know. After coming home and walking properly now I was keen to give running a go and to do it without the knee support I had relied on for as long as I can remember. I was nervous I won’t lie and part of my nerves came from the unknown. When my knee went before as bad as it was I knew what happens and how to put my knee back in. I was so worried now that it would go and my knee be stuck out of place because of the new ligament.
I also wondered about my fitness having not ran in over a year. But I needed have worried. I ran 2 miles like it was nothing and felt really comfortable and confident on the home straight, and I have been running a few times a week since then too. I haven’t had any soreness with my knee at all, the only problem is that my calf on that side gets a little tired sooner than on my right hand side, but I think the more I run the more I will continue to build up those muscles and balance everything out.
I have also been climbing again, both indoors and outdoors. I bouldered for the first time which was again quite a big deal. Bouldering might be lower but you land on your feet and so for me it was scarier and something I had badly hurt my knee doing before my op. I decided for climbing for the mean time I am going to continue to use my support. I kind of wanted to be able to do it without, but climbing is an extreme sport and my knee strap isn’t huge and doesn’t restrict me at all and gives me that little bit more confidence whilst climbing.
I figured why risk taking all that hard work back when it makes no difference either way, where as running I need to do for the strength in my leg without the strap. I have had no issues bouldering indoors and hope to go outdoors again next weekend. My hamstring has felt a little tight when stretching for some moves but I do think I need to still work on the strength there a little and running will help me with that.
Overall my knee feels so much stronger and I feel I can do things without constantly thinking about it. I has played on my mind since my op and I have been more cautious but gradually that confidence is coming back. I was always a little like that because of my injury anyway. I am not sure if I will play football again or climb without my strap. I want to and I think only time will tell. But for now I feel stronger and pleased that I made this decision to have my op. It is a long recovery and more so with my mind than my body. The only problem I still have is stiffness bending it fully. I can’t kneel very well and it is painful but not painful in a dangerous way if that makes sense.
I still try and stretch it but it only seems more flexible after running. This doesn’t really bother me all that much but when climbing a fall from high can bend it past where it is comfortable and occasionally I might fall back into a kneel and it hurts! I might seek out help with this but for now that is a small price to pay for a kneecap that feels much more secure! My physio told me he was more than happy with me when I saw him back in April and that 12 months is the time when you see how it will probably be for the rest of your life. I hope the stiffness does ease but we will see.
I hope to push myself climbing over the next few months we are home and also run for longer too. We are heading off backpacking again in November and this time I feel I have nothing at all stopping me or slowing me down!
October 2016 – A year since the op!
So here I am, I almost thought this day would never come and had a lot of fear about where I would be at this point. I was told on a few occasions that almost how I would be at 12 months would be how I would be forever and how slow my progress felt at first that prospect scared me. The 12 months have been a mixture of a lot of pain and hard work, frustrations and fears, learning and relearning and slowly building confidence.
Getting the balance between resting and being cautious and pushing myself was hard. Getting down to the gym really helped me, even going other things such as push ups and core when I could only do basic leg workouts helped keep me strong and focused. The physio was really great for allowing me to know where and when to push and I really went for it 100% in those sessions and looked forward to them. I enjoyed being able to push myself with a professional supervising me so I could still stay safe. They got me doing a lot I was nervous about, jumping, standing on one leg, sharp turns etc. But for me running was a huge mental block, I was even climbing on top rope by Christmas time, but running just didn’t happen.
It was like my head just wouldn’t let me and how ever much I tried I would always hold back and run kind of like with my legs bent. Its hard to describe how I would “run” but I knew it wasn’t right and I knew I had a bit of a hidden limp still when walking that really came out when running. I questioned on a few occasions whether I would ever run again properly, after doing a 10k before my first op in 2014 I had really come to enjoy the challenge of it but thought it was just something that was behind me. However one of the best things that I did was to go off backpacking, it almost distracted me from thinking about my knee and also made me push myself to do things because I knew I needed to take opportunities there and then. I also did a hell of a lot of walking and hiking which helped with strength, fitness and that limp.
Coming back home I pushed myself to run and climb properly again. In August I went out and ran for the first time in over a year, I managed 2 miles at a decent pace and surprised myself. Clearly backpacking had allowed me to build my fitness which really helped and after so long I just switched off and ran as naturally as I could and tried not to think. I had built my confidence too being away and it meant I could just go for it. I then decided I wanted to push myself to prove to myself that I had finished my recovery and normal service had been resumed. This meant in 2 months stepping up from not running to going out 3 times a week and building up my milage. We took part in the Scouse 5k over in Liverpool and I felt great…lets go for the 10k again!
So it was on, I expected a battle but actually found building the miles up easier than expected and certainly easier than the first time I stepped up to 10k. I even thought if we were at home I would seriously be looking at signing up for a half marathon for next year! So we did the Autumn Breaker 10k in October, a year since my op and I completed another 10k.
I got 1:02:19, not my best time in an organised 10k, but my initial target was under 1 hour 5mins and I smashed that. Of course, I always want under and hour but given the recovery I have been through and the time i had to prepare in many ways this is a bigger achievment than those better times and I know if I ran another say next months I could knock those 2 mins off.
We have also been outside climbing again too and climbing properly. I managed to climb almost my best grades in most of the main areas of climbing. In climbing its not always easy to do this as you loose a lot of the stamina and strength for the longer and harder routes rather than technical ability.
But I pushed myself to lead some trad and sport again which is challenging in different ways and for me bouldering, which was always the scariest in terms of my knee. Having dislocated my knee badly bouldering just before my op I had lost a lot of confidence but went out and climbed one of the hardest problems I had done before my op again, one which took me a few sessions to get, and got it again in only one session. So that again was a milestone!
I feel like with my climbing and running that pushing myself to get as close as possible to where I was before, given the 3 months we have been back in the UK, has allowed me to put a line underneath my knee op and move on to just being me again. The runner, climber, adventurer and traveller rather than someone in recovery. I have come through the other side and can do anything I want again and push myself to do bigger and better now and not even think about my knee. And if I do i know it is so much stronger than it was before and I also know how much I have come through to get back to this stage!
If you are recovering from an MPFL or any knee operation just keep going, day to day try to make improvements and realise the triumphs in even the small things. I remember walking across the kitchen for the first time, heart beating out of my chest with nerves! It was scary and hard work, things don’t happen when they should, but keep going! Running was a mile stone for you, whatever yours is keep taking steps to get there. It might feel impossible but it will click one day!
As for us, we are off backpacking again around Asia for 18 months and hopefully in the future I can climb even harder and run a half marathon…maybe even a marathon one day if we can stay in one place long enough to train!
Latest posts by Nicola Hilditch-Short (see all)
- Taking the 2 day slow boat down the Mekong River from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Rai, Thailand and how to do it yourself! - May 22, 2017
- The temple town of Luang Prabang Laos: Buddhism, Monks, Rivers and Rich Culture! - May 19, 2017
- Riding up to the amazing Kuang Si Waterfall before hiking through the jungle to a tribal village with Grasshopper Bike tours! - May 16, 2017