Friday, June 20, 2008

Heal, Already! Living with a Nagging Injury (i)

Part One
I’ve been living with a minor sports-related injury for about seven months now, and the fancy name for it is patellofemoral pain syndrome. Really, that’s just a ten-dollar way of saying that I have a problem that the experts don’t understand. It basically amounts to irritation and pain behind the kneecaps, and most of the gurus think it’s due to poor tracking of the patella when the leg flexes. Of course, the leg flexes many hundreds of times on a typical bike ride, right? So there you go: Recipe for nagging, recurring injury.

That’s the bumper sticker version of the science. What I really want to write about today, though, is the way that a nagging injury gets inside your head and fouls up your confidence, your athletic life and your sanity. There doesn’t seem to be much out there about that – which is surprising, considering how common sports injuries are.

When the injury first came along last fall, I buzzed off to my primary care doctor. He sent me to an orthopedist. Who sent me to a physical therapist. Which was where I wanted to go in the first place, but you know the wisdom of insurance companies: You have to go through the chain of command, or you get court martialed.

All three experts told me I had rock-solid knees, and I’d be back to 100% in no time. The cocky young orthopedist even turned on his million-dollar smile and said something like, “I promise you another 100,000 miles on those knees.”

Now, you’ll remember I said at the top “seven months,” right? It’s so easy for doctors to be optimistic about your recovery. If they turn out to be wrong, they just get more business. If we could sue for giving false hope, like we can for leaving surgical tools inside us, they’d be more circumspect, don’t you think?

The PT was one of those no-nonsense sports doctors: Young, confident, handsome. Runs his own business, always checking his Blackberry. Man of few words. Very nice guy, actually, and I think he’s probably pretty good. But I always worry that he’s finds me a bit neurotic. I go on and on about my symptoms, when they come, when they go, what the variables are, asking a hundred questions. I think he wishes I would just shut up and follow his exercise and stretching regimen. He knows I would get better; he's seen it many times. Meanwhile, he could put his attention on his other patients. There seem to always be other patients in PT offices, lined up on treatment tables and specialized equipment, waiting for attention from the doc, as if he were the maharishi about to bless them with his miraculous hands, so they could finally go run or swim pain-free. I wish they would all go away. Can’t they see that I need to get these knees fixed?

NEXT: The physical therapy actually works. For a while.

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