Not what I (k)needed

Not my actual knee

Not my actual knee. Photo by Mike Davies / by NC-ND 2.0 CC

Last month I had two projects go so spectacularly, horribly wrong at the same that I had to run. Literally run, not run away from the projects, though that would have been lovely. Too bad I have a sense of professional responsibility and a need to pay my rent.

Exercising because I’m stressed out is a new thing for me. Usually I just eat a package of Oreos because I cling to the belief that cookies can fix everything, just like duct tape. However, my body felt so physically tense that even the gross output of the Nabisco factory wouldn’t have helped me, so I went for a walk instead. After a few minutes I realized walking wasn’t enough, so I burst into a run and I ran and ran and ran. While this did not solve my work problems, I did feel like I could go back to work without having an aneurysm.

Although I’d been walking fairly regularly, I’d been avoiding running because my knees are not in the best shape. They hurt a little when I go up stairs, and they hurt a lot when I’ve been going up and down the stairs all day for three days, like when I moved three months ago. They also make this unsettling crunching sound when I bend them, like I’ve got Rice Krispies and milk in my joints. So, I was happy and amazed that I was able to run for several minutes without collapsing on the side of the trail and having to crawl back to civilization.

I started doing intervals the next week, running for a minute and then walking for three minutes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This was going really well until it wasn’t, which was when I was lying in bed with achy, achy knees screaming that I was an idiot.

I decided to finally see a doctor about the problem. I had to get x-rays which required me to stand in a lunge position for an uncomfortably long period of time, which seems like the last thing you should ask someone to do when they’re having knee pain. I was referred a to a rheumatologist and the nurse said I was the easiest patient of her day because I was so young and disease free, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh on the inside because I could fill a Bingo card with every type of medical specialist I’ve seen in the past five years. But, whatever, evidently most rheumatology patients have it worse than me, those poor, poor, souls.

I made sure to wear a skirt to the appointment so I wouldn’t have to put on a robe, but I forgot to shave my legs. For some reason I feel like I should be well-groomed when seeing a doctor, like how I brush my teeth before visiting the dentist. It seems polite. But I’m sure he deals with much worse things than leg hair, so I didn’t feel that bad about it. I laid back on the examination table and he bent my legs a variety of ways, which sounds very dirty when I put it like that. But trust me, it was not sexy at all, especially not with the leg hair.

My doc then told me that I have hypermobility syndrome in my knees. (Disturbing photos here courtesy of Google images.) Evidently my knees can bend in ways they shouldn’t. I’m not a flamingo or anything, but I can bend them slightly past vertical when standing. The doctor was also able to rock my lower leg slightly left and right at the knee. All of this means that when I do something that stresses the joints, like walking up the stairs or running, the ligaments and tendons have to work harder to stabilize my knee. Doing this a lot causes pain. He said there really aren’t any drugs to treat this at my stage, and what I really needed to do is NOT RUN.

*Your blogger sobs quietly*

I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good runner, but I like the meditative qualities of running. When I was a baby, my parents could always soothe me by bouncing me up and down. Running is like that. I fall into a rhythm and fall out of the world for awhile. While my body is busy, my mind if free to do what it wants to. I get a lot of thinking done when I run. I’ve written a lot of blog entries in my head when I was running. I like running.

However, I will not be doing any running in the near future, because as much as I love running I like pain-free knees better. The doc recommended swimming, biking or the elliptical machine instead. None of which sound appealing because 1) I don’t know how to swim that well and I’m not crazy about being seen in a bathing suit 2) Bicycle seats hurt and 3) Elliptical machines are only found in gyms and I’d rather be out running on a trail.

Alas, we can’t always get what we want. And despite what the Rolling Stones say, I don’t think I’m going to get what I need either, which is BIONIC KNEES. I still haven’t sorted out what I’m going to do instead of running. I hope I don’t have any projects go horribly wrong anytime soon, because if I can’t run I’ll probably have to smash something instead, and if I run the only thing I’ll smash is my knees.

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colleenzo • October 2, 2012 at 10:20 am

Can I just say that I was totally unaware that I had hypermobility syndrome until you gave me that link and I realized that I can recreate every single one of the pictures included therein? That said, I’m sorry about your knees. Knee problems suck eggs!

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Paul Kassen • October 2, 2012 at 10:22 am

Hi Jen,

Have you tried knee braces? I have ankle problems and completely flat feet, so anytime I exercise, I have to wear ankle braces or I’ll end up with painful ankles, knees and back.

I was surprised how much difference a neoprene wrap (not slip on) brace made. I’ve also seen knee braces that are steel and/or plastic reinforced to restrict sideways movement and keep your knee aligned.

May be worth a shot :)

Hope things get better!

Paul

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Liz • October 2, 2012 at 10:27 am

Water walking! Buy yourself a water proof ipod, head to the pool. You can’t possibly look worse in your swimsuit than the old ladies at my gym do. I’ve been water walking for years and I love it. I met a lady at the pool who walks with me every morning now, but before that, I just put my ipod on and listened to podcasts and zoned out.

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Sara • October 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

Nice to see you blogging again!

Have you seen the ElliptiGo or Streetstrider contraptions? Solves the seat issue, but I own a Streetstrider and don’t know that I would say that it id easy on the knees. I rented an ElliptiGo for an afternoon and that one migt be more knee friendly, but I’m not sure.

They are also painfully expensive, ginormous and can be hard to find used, but sometimes craigslist has a few. A Trikke might also be worth a look, as they are much cheaper, but I haven’t tried one of those yet. Good luck!

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Jen • October 2, 2012 at 10:56 am

Non-runners don’t always realize what a blow the “don’t run” order can be.
I hope you can find something that brings you the same intensity and satisfaction. I’m dealing with some injury issues myself, so i know how much it sucks.

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Amy • October 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I have hypermobility syndrome, and I still run. What I had to do to avoid injury, though, is a ton of physical therapy to build up the strength in the muscles & soft tissue surrounding my joints. I still have to be careful and take it easy on days when I feel more wobbly (and I can tell now), but I am still a runner. (And my knees and elbows (and other joints) are extremely hypermobile, so maybe if I can do it, then you can, too? Was your doc a sports medicine orthopedist? If not, you may want to try someone who specializes in athletes, as they are often more willing to find ways around things to keep us active.)

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Alejandra • October 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Hi!

I also love running, and I also can’t do it because of my knees.

I know swimming does not sound appealing to you, but that feeling of falling into a rhtym and out of the world while you run? You get that swimming too!

Perhaps you could try a couple of swimming lessons? I also hate, hate, hate being seen in a bathing suit, but you can wear a robe and take it off at the edge of the pool, so you are exposed for only a few seconds…

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JenFul • October 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

@colleenzo – Always happy to let you know you’re sicker than you think! :)

@amy – My doctor did recommend strengthening my quadriceps and gave me a referral to a physical therapist. The no-run order was also influence by my weight gain, so if/when I lose weight we can re-evaluate.

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karen • October 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm

i’m glad you are back to a post a day. You are a good writer.

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JenFul • October 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm

@Paul – Whenever I use braces they tend to roll up uncomfortably.

@Jen – Sorry about your knee!

@Sara – I hadn’t heard of those before. Probably not in my budget, but they’re interesting.

@liz and @Alejandra – I’ll think about the swimming. I’d have to join the YMCA or a gym to have access to a pool though.

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Gingerzingi • October 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I’ve never been a fan of running, but I do know what it’s like to have your happy place taken away. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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Amanda • October 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Oh man, I’m so sorry this has happened! I kept trying to run and finally managed to a) develop stress fractures in both my legs, and b) found out I have a lovely issue called chondromalacia patella in both knees (the right is worse). Verdict? If I run, I will hurt. If I walk especially vigorously, I will hurt. The solution is surgery, which will require six weeks of no weight bearing on the affected limb.

I understand — it really bites having your body bail on you :(((

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Shawn • October 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Chiming in with knowing how it feels to not have that physical outlet. I broke my ankle at roller derby practice five weeks ago, had surgery to put in a plate and a screw and it is killing me to not be on skates right now. My surgeon says that I should be cleared to skate again by the beginning of December, knock wood.

We have a lot of knee injuries in derby, as you can imagine, and the recommendation to build up the muscles around your knee to help is an excellent one, along with consulting with an ortho that specializes in sports medicine. Running is hard on the legs, building up your stabilizer muscles with resistance exercise as well as your core muscles (lower back, abdomen, hips, pelvis) will help a lot.

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El • October 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I’m trying really really hard to feel bad for you but mostly I’m just jealous. Never been able to run. Got down to 200 pounds and still couldn’t do it. I hope weight loss helps. Or the physical therapy. Or you become a kick-butt swimmer….or SOMEthing….

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asdf • October 2, 2012 at 4:45 pm

sorry to hear about the no running diagnosis. :P the elliptical isn’t that bad, though. ditto w/ biking.

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Sue B • October 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

If you are near one of the Universities, you may be able to get a gym pass to their pools pretty cheaply. Also check out the Y, a friend of mine recently moved near there and the Y offerings are great. Instead of swimming (which tends to overstress my shoulders) I tread water. I have a waterproof MP3 player so me and the knitting podcasts just go and bob and tread water in the deep end for 45 minutes while the kids play in the shallow end. Much easier on my joints and the water pressure makes everything feel better.

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Kate • October 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I took a swimming class at my local Y a few years ago – I did not have to actually join the Y to take the class (I think I had to pay like $10 more though). Even though I knew how to not drown, I couldn’t really swim – turns out I LOVED it!! And I am a fattie too :)

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Sarah • October 3, 2012 at 12:57 am

@Amy – DITTO
I live in MD and I actually see a PT that specializes in athletes especially running. They even own an Alter G http://www.alterg.com/. I love running on this thing. When I first started going they video taped my running to determine what I was doing wrong, then developed a plan to improve my running. It has helped alot. They helped me train for a half marathon and run it pain free after having knee issues since I was a preteen. Do not give up.

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Bernadette • October 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

Knowing that you’ve got hypermobility issues, you might want to look into Ehlers Danlos syndrome a bit – not saying you have it, but it can cause a fairly wide-ranging collection of symptoms (might explain some of your other health issues…?).

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Shirley @ gfe • October 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

For years, I thought I had serious knee issues. My knees made crunching noises, too. I had x-rays done, saw and ortho guy, and had been given the same type of advice. Don’t do this, do that. I started avoiding stairs, etc., but nothing really helped. But then all my knee problems went away a few months after I went gluten free, despite the fact that I was still considerably overweight. Things are not always as they seem to be.

Shirley

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IronWoman • October 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I’m a runner and I totally thought I’d hate swimming, but, the key is, find a good coach. Once you get to the pool and realize that not everyone is a skinny minnie, you won’t feel so self conscious, trust me. Plus, once you get used to it, it’s a wonderful way to burn calories and tone your whole body, and you don’t have to deal with being all gross and sweaty afterward! Just more food for thought, from someone who has finally put her big toe in the water! ;)

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Emma • February 25, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hi Jen, I’m a long time reader first time poster…sorry to hear about your running embargo. A completely random and probably stupid suggestion, but have you ever thought of Nordic Walking? You need fancy special poles (not normal walking ones) and obviously you would look kooky doing it, but it’s basically the closest thing to being on an elliptical trainer (i.e highly aerobic but low impact) that you can get whilst still being out in nature and not cooped up in a gym http://www.anwa.us/html/index.php

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Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

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