I began my own informal running program the Summer after my Freshman year of High School. Why does the timing stick out so clearly in my memory? Because for some reason I had decided that I wanted to play field hockey in the next Fall season. (I wish I could go back and ask my 15 year old self what the HECK she was thinking…an out-of-shape, previously unathletic, and--let’s just be honest, here—distinctly non…”tough” girl suddenly got the notion that she should run around with a stick and hack at a ball? I had good friends on the team, that’s all I can tell ya…) One of my buddies who’d played one year already and therefore knew what she was talking about solemnly counseled me to start training immediately…so I wouldn’t “throw up during August practices”. Well…alrighty, then—I took her word for it, and pretty much have been a runner ever since.
Back in my tender youth, I ran all the time--basically to the exclusion of any other type of exercise. However, I realized….oh, way back in my 20s…that if I wanted to still have functioning joints as I got older, that I should diversify my workout regime. So from then on, I mixed it up, and stuck to pounding the pavement once or twice a week—enough to keep me happy…and still be able to, you know, “walk under my own power”.
This has come even more to the forefront of my mind lately, for several reasons. First, my dad has arthritis…and two bad knees (which he refuses to get fixed, but that’s a whole other story, folks)…and I can’t even imagine how that must feel, because merely watching him try to painfully, slowly move around is excruciating. And then, of course, there’s my own recent battle with the blanket term “inflammation”. With all the therapies—both traditional and alternative—that I’ve been engaging in, I feel like I’m doing a metaphorical sprint…to keep ahead of the threat of impending…joint creakiness. And mostly I’d say it’s been working pretty well. Avoiding all the inflammatory food baddies, taking natural supplements and homeopathic remedies and…whatnot…have slowly but surely improved both the hand pain and the stomach issues that prompted me to seek out the naturopathic practitioner in the first place.
So, to the present (and the point!): one day in December we were enjoying quite balmy conditions—warm enough even to wear shorts and a t-shirt to go for a run. The 3.5 miles went smoothly, easily, and enjoyably, as did the walk back to the house, and the post-workout stretching. But then (cue ominous music) back at the house, when I placed my left foot on the first step of the staircase, to descend and get more water…my knee almost crumpled, and caused me to tumble unceremoniously down to the bottom. And can I just say: YOWCHIES, man!
It was like an explosion of agony, out of the blue. Now, let me explain that my innate tendency is to use medicine…and consult doctors… sparingly. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and am grateful for pharmaceutical and medical help when necessary, but it’s usually not my first instinct when something happens. So it was pretty significant to me that I INSTANTLY thought, “Okay, exactly how long am I going to give this to clear up on its own, before I go see a specialist?” I didn’t actually answer myself; rather, I just decided (in typical fashion) to take a wait-and-see approach. Therefore I hobbled around for about a day and a half, utilizing a heating pad (which felt awesome, so say what you will about icing, I opt for the soothing warmth) and OTC pain meds…at which point it just…resolved.
Needless to say, I was hugely relieved by this development. (Yay! I don’t need to actually, you know, address the problem!) Then we had another gorgeous afternoon, about a week after the “incident”, and it was just too good to pass up for getting outside and putting a few more miles on the running shoes. And—you probably guessed it—same lovely workout…identical unexplained knee trauma afterwards…for about an equal amount of time, also.
By this point I was waffling about what to do—continue ignoring the situation (sooo tempting…even if, admittedly, incredibly unwise) or get it examined and figured out (more hassle…but smarter. You see my dilemma, right? Continued suffering vs…minor inconvenience. Yeeeaaah, never mind…). In the meantime I happened to have a scheduled appointment with the aforementioned naturopath, with whom I shared the whole saga. She looked at me sympathetically and said--in a tone that managed to be non-judgmental…but also brook no argument-- “Do me a favor…and have that checked out.” Oh, FINE, since YOU asked me to (heaving a dramatic sigh for effect…but inwardly agreeing with her completely).
It was now December 23rd, and I knew I had one shot to get this taken care of, or else I’d have to wait until after the holidays. From both Riley’s and my recent maladies, I was aware of an orthopedic clinic nearby that conducted walk-in hours. You just show up, sign in, wait your turn, and meet with the next available physician. So with fingers firmly crossed, I set out from home at 9 a.m….bringing a book, just in case I was stuck there for a while…to take my chances. I was hoping that many people had taken the day off, given its proximity to Christmas—and the lack of traffic on the way there seemed to bear out this wish.
I arrived to an almost-empty lobby as well…so far, so good! And whattya know: I was in and out of there in 25 minutes flat, having been prodded and questioned and ultimately diagnosed with (dah dah dah DA) inflammation. (Whoa, there’s a shock, right?) The very nice PA informed me it was probably caused by “the patella and femur rubbing against each other” (wincing—that just doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Trust me, it doesn’t feel too terrific, either…) and leading to the sensation of intense irritation.
On to the critical details: recommendations for remediation? Two weeks without running (um…hold that thought, we’ll come back to it), strengthening exercises for the area around the kneecap, and a regimen of NSAIDs. The first one, of course, I immediately balked at (in my head, at least) until I realized that it had already been almost a week since I’d last run…but more importantly, the next reeealllly pleasant forecast was coming up on Tuesday, which would make it about 10 days of rest, which in real-world language translates to…CLOSE ENOUGH, Doc. As for the isometric exercises-- no problem, happy to do them. When it came to the pills, though, I inquired as to how many he’d want me to be popping, and he gave me a choice: 3 Ibuprofens, 3 times a day…or he’d write me a prescription for something I could take once daily. Um, yes, please, THAT one!
When I got home with my little bottle of...pharmacological sweetness...I didn’t bother to read the package insert, since I assumed it was simply a stronger concentration of the same active ingredient as, say, Advil. Husband, however, having been employed in the pharmaceutical research industry for several decades, couldn’t resist perusing the fine print. (I swear he does this for FUN…that’s a whole different kind of nerd, y’all….) No sooner had he seen the name of the concoction, than he exclaimed, “Wow! That’s the good stuff!” Ohhhhh? Well…cool!
And guess what? Within two days of swallowing the happy tablets, absolutely Every. Single. One…of the the nagging, background aches and twinges that you sort of tune out, and learn to endure on a day-to-day basis, and consider them just the price of being alive at this age…vanished. I mean G-O-N-E…almost as if those tiny gems were made of magic, rather than whatever chemicals actually go into them. It felt like a (legal) drug-induced miracle, my friends. Seriously, I didn’t even realize how many body parts had been bothering me…until they suddenly...weren’t.
So then I read the FDA’s helpful information, and right there in black and white it says: used to treat characteristics of…arthritis. (Groan…not the A-word!) So obviously this wasn’t given to me right this moment as a forever solution, but I’m certainly enjoying my two weeks of pain-free existence while it lasts. And doing my exercises. And also (mumbles sheepishly) running again—what can I say? We keep having these delightful weather interludes…but since visiting the ortho and following his advice, I haven’t experienced any further symptoms…pre, during, or post-jaunt. I suppose the REAL test will be when I conclude my self-imposed 14-day period of prescription assistance, and go it on my own again…but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, yeah? Hopefully on another 60-degree day in January…in running sneakers!