Update: I ran on Monday. Here are my stats. I almost cried I was so happy to run, especially pain free.
I finally manned up and did it. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to receive a diagnosis on my knees. When it was done, I was cleared to run again, which is all I’ve wanted to hear the past two-plus months since San Francisco. However, I learned I have Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (“Runner’s Knee” [“Shitty Knees”]) in both knees. Bajillions of people live with Runners Knee and continue to run with it. It’s not necessarily debilitating, but it’s not fun either. For me, my knees hurt less while I run and more when I sleep. I will wake up on my side and my knee will be burning, likely caused by me shifting my weight onto the side of my foot to flip sides, which causes my knee to torque.
The fact I will live with this the rest of my life is sort of depressing, but the doctor’s appointment was anything but. Lemme tell ya, I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’m actually not sure I’ve heard of anything like it. Let me take you through it:
I’ve set an appointment with a renowned sports physician. He’s busy and I wait 30 minutes to see him. I play Words With Friends and think about how my once unstoppable dynasty fantasy football team (15-1 last season, and league champion by a mile) this season is the equivalent of Ke$ha filling in for Pavarotti.
They call my name and escort me to another room. I wait more. I play Zombie Highway (personal best of 4.27 miles). An X-ray pro opens the door and tells me to follow her. She stands me against a wall and tells me to cover my “reproductive organs” with a led blanket. No problem. Can I have two just in case? I really need those. No? Okay, one is fine.
Seven X-rays of my knees later, I’m back in my room playing Zombie Highway again. That’s when the show began.
The doctor doesn’t merely enter, he and his student-trainee enter donning the same smirk two guys sport leaving a bar bathroom after dishing on the skirts at the round top. This conversation typically happens at the urinals where the joker is wobbling with his face pointed at the ceiling, and the listener with his forehead against the wall laughing without noise but with heavy facial expressions. It definitely looks like the doctor was the joker, because the student looks like he just learned something really funny in medical records. I’m betting they were either hitting on nurses, or laughing they were about to charge me a couple hundred dollars to diagnose me with something I could have diagnosed myself for free on WebMd.
We shake hands. He introduces me to his student. The doctor asks me questions about when my knee hurts, how I hurt it, typical protocol. He runs tests and shows me my X-rays. He tells me I have Runner’s Knee, but that my knees are strong. Here’s where the doctor transitioned from medical profession speak to “real talk,” as Fabolous would say.
“When can I start running again?” I ask.
“Oh, right away,” he says.
This is not what I expected to hear. I was thinking a few months.
“Get out there and do what you love.”
“But what about the pain?”
“Shit’s gonna hurt, man. But you can run on it. Think of it like this (he draws a line with his hand in the air): This is knee pain on a normal day of activity. (He draws a rise in the line about an inch then levels it off) This is pain when you’re running. If you can handle the pain, keep going.” (I’m pretty sure he used the word bitch in there, but my memory isn’t picture perfect)
“You can take Ibuprofen and ice to help.”
“If the pain goes beyond that, come back and see me.”
“When will my knees stop hurting?”
“Nope. What’s done is done. Take lots of Ibuprofen. And ice.”
“Can I run another marathon?”
“Will that do more damage? Or do I just need to be careful on downhills?”
“Knees break down every day from normal wear-and-tear. Things like marathons and any weight training where you bend your knees–like squats and lunges–can degrade them. But do what you want, man. If you can take the pain, follow your passion. I would definitely cross train more, though.”
“Should I limit how many marathons I do in my life?”
“Depends how bad it hurts. I get people in here after marathons all the time, and they always bitch about their knees, but they keep running them. I’m like, ‘Find a new a hobby!’ Marathons are rough, but you can get away with them. Now, people who do ultra-marathons, those people are idiots. I don’t know how they do it.”
“That is crazy.”
“Yeah it’s stupid.”
“Can I do anything to help myself in the long run?”
“Ibuprofen. And ice.”
“Also, make sure your shoes are right for your feet. You can wear orthopedic patella straps (I bought these). It also helps to strengthen your quadriceps. This will help keep everything in your knee in place and can reduce or eliminate the pain.”
Inner monologue: “Do squats, lunges and the like to strengthen knee; but be careful, because squats, lunges and the like destroy the knee… “
The doc and I share a laugh then I go home.
I must say, his frankness was refreshing and to the point, but I left more confused than when I arrived. Not because of bad information, but because the truth was more than I was expecting. I can run, but I’ll always hurt. I have information to consider and weigh.
I want to give it a shot. I’m not ready to abandon running.
From here, it’s all about easing back into running. I have all the gear I need to be a fall and winter runner. Today, I’m going on my first run in two months. It’ll be flat and slow. Hopefully I can find ways to eliminate the pain, because SF 2012 training starts sooner than I realize. And if I decide to run the LA Marathon in March, training starts today.