Aside from spinal cord injuries, chronic knee pain is arguably the most disabling pain a fitness enthusiast can live with. Exercise limitations are not the only setbacks bad knees deprive you of, it diminishes your quality of life. Simple activities such as walking, taking the stairs and picking up your son’s monster truck toy off the ground are all ominous tasks. If you have the struggles of chronic knee pain, you know exactly what I mean. If not, I envy you, consider yourself blessed by the knee gods.
Common knee problems:
- Tendonitis (pain in-front of knee)
Caused by injury or wear and tear of a movement repetition over time. Symptoms includes pain, swelling, and burning sensation in the knee cap.
- Bursitis (damaged cartilage, injury or over-use inflammation of the knee)
Caused by overuse of the joints or from injury. Symptoms includes gradual pain build up, swelling and redness.
- Gout (arthritis from uric acid buildup)
Caused by irate crystal accumulation in the joints. Also forms with high levels of uric acid in the blood. Symptoms include intense joint pain, lingering discomfort, redness and inflammation, limited range of motion.
- Chondromalacia Patellae (also known as runner’s knee)
The deterioration and softening of cartilage on the under-surface of the kneecap. Caused by poor alignment, muscle imbalance and repeated joint stress. Symptoms include knee pain, cracking and grinding when bending.
How I hurt my knees…
My knee problems derived from a friendly but very competitive basketball pick up game many many years ago in my late teens. I still remember dribbling the ball clear as day, one point away from defeat and my opponent barking, hounding me with all that trash talk. Desperate to create separation from what felt like Lebron James on steroids, I executed my go to move ” the herkey jerkey crossover”. And there it was, home free home, an open lane to an easy lay-up, an opportunity to even the score, but within a fraction of a second Lebron 2.0 recovered, lunging at me with exceptional quickness colliding knee to knee. Boom!!!! I sank onto the hardwood floor faster than an unbalanced pregnant woman in her third trimester. I knew my knee would never be the same again. Within a few minutes, my knee swelled twice the size, and filled with what I later learned was cartilage fluids. The pain wasn’t unbearable, it felt more anemic, weak, and numb all at once.
My life changed that day along with my workout routines. Struggling with constant knee pain, for the next four years “leg days” was a figment of my imagination, never to fruition. Walking comfortably became a challenge, performing a bar bell squat or leg press exercise was the equivalent of the claw part of a hammer being scraped against my kneecap. With my legs out of commission, my upper body became significantly disproportional in comparison. It got so bad to the point I was referred to by the moniker ” Johnny Bravo” , an animated cartoon character with thin legs holding his oversized torso. Although my buddies friendly jabs were mostly amusing, something had to give, I needed to find a solution for my own sanity.
I first consulted with my doctor who referred me to a rheumatologists, or knee specialist. The rheumatologist did an overall assessment of my knees before requesting an MRI scan. Sure enough the scan results revealed a significant amount of damage and I was diagnosed with knee arthritis. The following options subsequently followed my diagnoses – Option 1: Additional testing and knee surgery that’s not guaranteed to yield positive results. Option 2: Cortisone injection shots for pain relief & inflammation. Option 3: Lose weight & build muscles around the knee joints to alleviate symptoms. This was an easy decision for me, option 3, not because I was already a fitness enthusiast but due to the fact I am absolutely petrified of needles and knives.
How I combatted knee pain…
Losing weight and building leg muscles are extremely troublesome with knee arthritis. Some days felt better than others. There were days when my knees were so inflamed, the lack of mobility kept me out of action completely. The key was to take full advantage of the good days. The days in-between, when pain was minimal and little inflammation occurred.
I invested in a pair of high quality knee compression sleeves that kept my knees and legs tight without cutting off my blood circulation. The sleeves were impactful, they reduced knee frictions that caused pain by fifty percent. This allowed me to adequately warm up my knees and sluggishly run, as well as performing weightless leg exercises without excruciating bone rubbing aches. Although helpful, knee sleeves alone were limited in my success of muscle-building.
I quickly required something more vigorous than body squats and weightless lunges in which a knee sleeve alone could not effectively support. One day while watching a Boston Celtics game comfortably in my living room with my leg propped up after a knee flare, an icy-hot commercial came on promising pain and joint relief. Since I did not readily have the promoted icy hot cream at hand, I improvised. Went to the bathroom cabinet and found an old bottle of my mother’s cure-all cream called “lwil Maskreti”, Haitian black castor oil (liquid gold of the Caribbean). I applied it gently on my knees and found it soothing. The aches were still present but not as intense. A few days later before leg training, I generously applied the castor oil on my knees followed by the knee compression sleeves. The results were amazing. I graduated from solo body movements to weighted exercises.
Over the next year, I successfully incremented the weights used each month and was able to participate in recreational basketball pick up games again, resulting in the loss of 20+ pounds. My leg muscles grew exponentially to the point my knees were well supported and no longer flared, knee friction discomfort was at an all time low.
What my knee injury taught me…
Knee injuries are not easy, in fact, they are quiet difficult. There are no overnight solutions nor a solution that works for all, hence why my knee specialist warned me that surgery is not a guaranteed fix. Recovery is a long and arduous process. It requires faith and sheer will. You will have awful days and moments when you feel like quitting. To make matters worse, once injured, your knee will never be the same no matter what you do. The silver lining is there is hope, you can gradually recover, close to 100 percent. You can once again live your best life without the ominous thought of collapsing onto the ground fallen victim to a weak knee. All you have to do is experiment, find the right solution that works for you, grind through the dark times and commit.