Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What not to do with an injured meniscus...

Since my initial knee injury, I’ve definitely taken it upon myself to ‘learn the hard way’ with my attempt at personal knee rehabilitation. When I received the diagnosis of a stretched and bruised meniscus due to a meniscus slip injury about a month ago, my Orthopedist gave me a choice of seeing a physical therapist or doing ‘at-home’ physical therapy on my own. I didn’t feel as though her tone was indicating one over the other; thus being a poor recent college grad, I chose the latter. Her nonchalant attitude (and I suppose my own foolish smugness) really made me feel as though it would be no big deal, and I could definitely do it on my own. I was WRONG.
For a week (everyday) I went to my alma mater’s gym (I’m a ramblin' wreck from Georgia Tech by the way J) to do what I felt to be a reasonable routine, including: Circuit of leg extensions, inner/outer thigh machine, calf raises, pushups, rows, Ab exercises. Then I would finish it off by swiming laps for about 15-20 minutes (WAY harder than it sounds…). After a week of this routine, my knee felt as though it had gotten significantly worse. I asked a friend (who's also going through knee rehab) about what could have caused this sudden digression. He asked about my routine, and I explained the above. Then, he asked about the weight load I was doing, and I couldn’t really come up with any numbers, I was unsure how much weight I was doing as I was just doing whatever I felt capable of. This was exactly my problem. I was told to do ‘light’ weights, but I suppose my definition of ‘light’ doesn't really parallel that of a physical therapist. With this revelation, I decided to give my knee a week to rest while I reevaluated my exercise/rehab routine. After much Googling and questioning of friends who’d also dealt with past knee injuries, I came up with the following TO DO list for my knee:
1) Exercise Regiment: Resistance Band Training/Stretches & Bike/Swimming
You can’t imagine all the different exercises for your lower/upper body that you can do with resistance bands, it’s pretty amazing. Plus, the best part is, it’s pretty difficult to over-do it, since you’re unable to continue adding weight (my biggest flaw, I ALWAYS over do EVERYTHING). All you have to do is put the one end of the band under the leg of your couch, and BOOM instant multi-use rehab machine! You’re able to exercise your legs from every direction with very simple and low-impact movements. Plus, if one position is bothering you at all, it’s super easy to make small adjustments to better suit your specific injury. Additionally, adding in the stationary bike has given me a bit more flexibility in terms of cardio; let's face it, it's hard to feel like putting on a bathing suit and jumping into cold/chemical-filled water EVERY day. My only note about the stationary bike, however, is that you must ensure you keep the resistance setting to a relatively light load to keep from worsening your injury. I learned the hard way with this exercise as well, so please don’t do the same.
Two Resistance Band types I use: Figure 8 for legs and Long Band with handles for upper body

2) Buy a HIGHLY padded pair of shoes!

Initially, I was only instructed not to wear high-heels. For a lady, I really don't have that many pairs of shoes (and most are high-heels since I'm only 5'1" tall; I have to try and look like an adult some how!) So, for me this meant I was to wear the single pair of nice flats I own to work every day and my one pair of flip-flops whenever else.  I did this for about 4 weeks. During my ‘revelation week’ while I was desperately trying to come up with ways to improve my knee, I thought about how little shock absorption my itty-bitty flats really gave my knees. Correct answer: NONE AT ALL. So, I went to the store and found a pair of sandals with a significant rubber heel and cushioned insole. I then added an additional ‘Dr. Scholl’s for her’ insert. My knees felt better within hours of putting these shoes on my feet. In retrospect, it seemed like such an obvious concept, but gosh do I wish I’d made this change earlier.

3) Take Supplements to ensure your body’s getting everything it needs to heal/recover.
While visiting family, my sister told me that our good ‘ol family dog, Luke (a pretty big and oh so majestic Lab Mix), was much more ‘spunky’ since he’d been taking Glucosamine and Chondroitin for his joints.
Glum Luke before he started takings vitamins for his doggie joints...

This got me thinking, DUH, why have I not invested in this for my joints?? That evening, I vigorously searched the internet and consulted knowledgeable friends until I decided on three supplements to buy that I felt might best help my knee. Firstly, I’m taking the obvious, Glucosamine and Chondroitin, which is indicated to potentially help strengthen/build cartilage and is often taken by patients with arthritis. Next, I’m taking fish oil, due to its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its benefits for the body overall. Finally, I’m taking Branched-Chain Amino Acids which is indicated to help reduce muscle breakdown and aid in muscle recovery. 

I have no proof that these supplements are at all the cause of my improving knee health. However, I’m a person of reason and since all these supplements' definitions logically make sense for my condition and have minimum attributed side effects, I figure it is much smarter to just include them rather than excluding them solely for their 'not so conclusive' scientific support.
I really wish I’d known all this in the first place; when it comes to rehabilitation, a guess-and-check method is NOT the way to go. With only myself to blame, I’ve been on an up-and-down rehab roller coaster that’s made my recovery time take longer than necessary. I feel that I’m finally on the home-stretch as my knee's definitely been improving with these changes; however, I now have to compensate for my own mistakes which could have been easily avoided. So, please learn from my mistakes instead of your own and take care of yourself people!!
PS...Be smarter than me and just go see a Physical Therapist, even if it's just for one session. You need to know the true limitations and best practices for your injury from day one.

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