Saturday, January 16, 2021

I Love Success Stories! Here Are Some You Should Read.

It's easy to get discouraged when trying to heal your knees from chronic pain. One step forward, one step back ... when will it ever end?

It's comforting and uplifting to hear occasionally from people who have beaten stubborn cases of knee pain.

In my last post, I wrote about a triathlete who posts here as TriAgain, and his success story. I thought that today, for ease of reference, I'd do a short post that provides an overview to the success stories that have been published on this site.

* The most useful post of TriAgain's success story was probably this one, on lessons learned. It's worth a close read.

* Here's a success story I found on Yahoo's chondromalacia forum. This person had left knee cap pain that was getting worse, and exercise aggravated his knee.

* I was delighted to find out that my book had found its way into the hands of a couple apparently from South America. The husband, Luis, wrote about his wife, a professional runner, and how she beat knee pain. It was a success story in two parts: here and here.

This one is from "Ron," and one of my first success stories. I was so excited that I went in and shared it with my wife and daughter, who was two at the time (and is now 11!).

* You're never too old to heal! "Pat" told me the story of how she did, and she was 66!

* One of my favorite commenters over the years was "Knee Pain." She seemed to be the epitome of a "can do, never say die" attitude. She got discouraged, I could tell, but vowed not to give up. So I was particularly pleased to be able to offer her success story.

* This was a "train through the pain" success story. I shared it, but with a caveat that the approach taken wasn't one I would endorse. But still: it's good to be open-minded about ways to heal.

* "Karen" shared a success story that involved my favorite sport: cycling. But she had a clever way of dealing with the sometimes too-heavy joint strain of pedaling.

I hope you enjoy these and are able to learn something from them!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Another Success Story to Celebrate!

I love success stories. They lift the spirits of people struggling to stick to what can be a years-long process to rehabilitate their bad knees.

I was pleasantly surprised last month to learn that TriAgain, an Australian triathlete who was one of the first people to post comments on this blog, has announced that he has completely healed.

"I'm declaring my knees 100% fixed now," he wrote in a comment. And how long did it take?

Only ... eight years and six months! How's that for dedication to a cause? It makes my own experience seem like a walk in the park.

Congratulations to TriAgain! There's more on his story here; I wrote about his battle back in September 2015. And his latest comments are here.

One thing I have come to realize is that we all don't heal in quite the same way, or hold quite the same beliefs. For instance, I'm quite skeptical of the value of stretching. Meanwhile, there are some who have healed from knee pain who swear stretching really helped.

But I think we agree on the important stuff. To me that's:

That bad, cranky knees can get better. If you choose to give up on your knees, that's your choice, but it's not as if they must inevitably stay the same or get worse.

That the road to recovery is often not easy, and there aren't any gimmicks or magic pills. I suspect that a number of people bought my book looking for some "secret" on page 159 or some such. I truly learned a lot from having knee pain and healing, but there's no magic juice or exercise that does the trick for all.

That healing requires a certain fortitude, optimism (but very much grounded in the possible), tenacity, determination, and stubbornness not to give up the fight, even when you seem to be losing (and there will be plenty of those times).

That, in a world where facts sometimes don't seem to matter, facts and science really do matter if you are serious about healing, because a knee pain sufferer is running an experiment of sorts, trying to unlock the combination that leads to steady, slow improvement (per Scott Dye).   

That patience is a key virtue, because it can take months (or even eight years) to get better.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Good New Year's Resolution: A Vow to Be Patient

I was out doing my twice-a-day walk recently and a thought struck me, as I kicked a rock out of the way.

If you found a rock, and put it outside, and took a close-up photo of the rock once a month for ten years, you would have 120 photos, and would probably arrive at an interesting conclusion:

Rocks don't change over time. The rock in the first photo would look identical to the rock in the last.

But we know that rocks do indeed change over time. It's just that it takes a long time, usually, for visible changes in a rock to appear. Most don't look any different after 10 years, or even 100 years.

Similarly, healing from chronic knee pain can be maddening, because it's so slow. On any given day, it can seem that there's been no progress.

In fact, in a way, it's worse than watching a rock, waiting for some change to occur. With a bad knee, you will have good days and bad days and in-between days, and you'll feel like you're going forward and then sliding back a few days later. In the end, you may feel so confused you want to give up.

That's why, as we approach the new year, I think the best thing many knee pain sufferers can do is adopt an attitude of patience. Healing is usually not quick. Go into your knee rehabilitation program with that mindset, and you can only be surprised pleasantly if healing is faster than expected.

But if you go into your program thinking, "I can fix this in a few weeks," you risk being so frustrated that you lose hope.

So, I'm wishing everyone out there with knee pain some patience in 2021. Good things can happen. Just look at the many success stories on this blog (there was just one posted in the comment section last week).

But patience is often necessary. And that patience will be tested severely, so be prepared for that too.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Open Comment Forum: How are YOU doing?

I figured I'd do an open comment forum today, hopefully to stir up some discussion.

As usual, feel free to bring up whatever you want in the comment section below: new studies, vexing knee problems, lingering frustrations, what's working, what's not working.

If you don't feel the need to say anything in particular, then if you've been a knee pain sufferer for a while (and a visitor here), it would be nice to hear an update of how you've been doing. Often, I've been happily surprised to hear from people who started leaving comments seven or eight years ago, then disappeared for a while, and later resurfaced to share their stories.

Mine is, unfortunately, a rather boring story at this point. I feel like a bit of an impostor sometimes. See, I have this blog about chronic knee pain, but I don't have chronic knee pain anymore. Now, knock on wood, I'd like to keep it that way and don't want to tempt fate. I'm aware that circumstances can change swiftly.

But it's a relief not to have to plan my life around a pair of complaining knees. Yesterday I rode hard on Zwift (virtual reality cycling!), banging out close to 3 watts per kilogram for two and a half hours. Today I meant to go easy on Zwift, then got suckered into trying to catch a large group of riders climbing a long, steep mountain road, and so I had another intense session.

And my knees are fine. No ice. No stabbing pains. Nothing. I know I'm lucky that my knee pain story has become boring.

But what about you? Anything to share? Please leave a comment below!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

'I'm Only 18. I Have Knee Pain. What Now?'

Recently, an 18-year old suffering from knee pain left some questions in the comment section.

A brief synopsis of this case:

I have been experiencing patellofemoral pain (as well as achy quads and calves, and some sharp medial pain that comes and goes a bit too much for me to fully attribute to a meniscus tear) for 7 weeks now. ... I am only 18 years old, was previously fairly active on a day-to-day basis, and a runner and casual player of many sports. I can work out why my pain (probably) started - a sudden fitness obsession after months of a mainly sedentary lifestyle brought on by the pandemic and moving from a relatively flat area to a rather hilly one.

Then, the person asked:

After reading your book and Paul Ingraham's, I have some questions. Firstly, I know that both of you encourage rest and many doses of light exercise to slowly build up joint strength. This seems reasonable. But what did you do (or what do you recommend) when you were *not* able to rest and *had* to push that envelope of function? Does this mean constant setbacks, or is it possible to push it a bit and then rest/light exercise for a longer period of time?

This reminds me of something that of course should be quite obvious: We live imperfect lives in an imperfect world when it comes to developing programs to heal. We have to sit too long at desks at work. We have to climb hills sometimes to get to the commuter train station. We have small children who insist on being carried around.

What's the answer to all these knee-unfriendly obstacles that are part of everyday living?

I wish I knew. Luckily, when I lived in Hong Kong, I was largely able to control my healing program. But I quit my job and had no family at the time! This enabled me to conduct a scientific-like experiment, and not many have that luxury.

My best thoughts on this are that people should control what they can, closely monitor what they can't, and try to learn from mistakes. So for instance, if I know that I have to walk up a couple of hills just to get to my train station (which I can't control), then maybe I don't take a long walk at lunch and instead do something less intense (which I can control).

Also, if I'm doing something that turns out to really bother my knee (in other words, I made a mistake), I should try to learn from that. But what if it's something I can't control, like walking up those hills? Well, humans are quite ingenious and can often solve difficult-seeming problems.

So maybe I try walking up the hills much more slowly. Or I hitch a ride with someone. Or?  

And then this question:

Secondly, do I have a chance of this not lasting as long as your pain and the pain of some others in this blog, as I am starting my attempt at recovery (hopefully) early and because of my age?

I think your age is definitely a positive factor, being only 18. And if you've only had your knee pain for seven weeks, and you're already serious about fixing it, you should be in very good shape indeed.

Try to be positive! Which leads us to:

Thirdly and finally, what advice do you have about the emotional side of pain? I was very depressed and anxious for over a week after one of the remissions and I am now grimly aware that this recovery may be a long, non-linear process and I may never get back to running or competitive sport again.

Well, heck, that sounds grim! I already sense a lot of negativity here. So I would tell myself:

I'm only 18. I haven't had knee pain that long. I have a great chance of beating this, and I will.

What I might do, if I were you, as you seem to like to be very active: Figure out a new knee-friendly sport to throw yourself into (well, ease yourself into may be a better phrasing). I think cycling, if you can tolerate it, can do wonders for bad knees. Some people like swimming, or exercising in the pool.

Again, try to be positive! I've read a lot of very tough, hard-luck cases in the years doing this blog. And yours, be thankful, isn't one of them. You seem like a great candidate for figuring this out and being able to do a lot of the activities that you did before this pain crept into your life.

Good luck!

If anyone else has any thoughts, please chime in below, thanks. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

When Knee Pain Comes With Golfer's Elbow

 I got this comment recently:

Hey Richard, funnily enough I have now developed that elbow pain you were talking about in your book. Has yours healed now? Any tips?

That "elbow pain," for me anyway, was "medial epicondylitis," also known as golfer's elbow.

Some context: I had had the knee pain for a while. The golfer's elbow just came out of the blue. There were no identifiable triggers for it. None at all.

Of course, as many of you know, this led to a lot of musing on my part about the ghost of inflammation loose in the haunted mansion of the body (if you want to ladle on those Halloween metaphors).

In other words, once inflammation takes up shop somewhere, in a matter of time you can develop other weird, seemingly unrelated problems in distant areas of your body. And I think the problems may be connected.

I have not seen a lot of science on this, so I could easily be wrong here. But I find it very odd that, as my knee pain deepened and persisted, various other ailments began to plague me, from the golfer's elbow to back pain (though that had a proximate cause, because I was sitting in an unnatural position).

Anyway, to the question: what to do?

I had terrific success with eccentric bicep curls (look them up on YouTube; you'll find lots of videos).

We're all accustomed to regular bicep curls, where the effort is expended in curling the weight up. For the eccentric version, the emphasis is on slowly releasing the raised weight back down to the starting position.

Over time, I really think this rebuilt the chaotic tendon fibers. My tendons went from being painful and dry and crackly feeling (they were almost like parched sticks, it seemed) to normal. I have no problems today and there's no reduced tendon strength as far as I can tell.

Be patient though. It does take time.

That's my experience, at least. Anyone else with any other ideas?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Some Good News About Cartilage's Ability to Rebuild Itself

I’ve said before that there won’t be a third edition of Saving My Knees because I expect that what lies between the covers will eventually no longer seem that radical and will become widely accepted.

And, happily, along comes a New York Times article to underscore that very point.

To recap, what I’ve said (in the book and on this blog):

The cartilage in your knees doesn’t simply “wear out.” It’s not like the tires on your car. It has an underappreciated ability to adapt and even repair itself (though very slowly).

To be clear, these insights don’t originate with me.

Doug Kelsey, an Austin physical therapist and author, was the first person to really awaken hope in me when I was struggling with a pair of bad knees while living in Hong Kong.

The gist of what he said: Don’t believe pessimistic doctors who say bad knees never get better. They certainly can.

I also uncovered scientific studies showing natural changes in cartilage that indicated the tissue, over a period of several years, showed signs of getting worse, yes, but also of healing. Places in the knee joint that were bone-on-bone often had cartilage filling in the holes when examined by MRI a few years later.

Okay, that’s a bit of a long windup for this New York Times article. The Times was looking at  running and the hoary myth that running is bad for your knees (to be clear, it can be, if you run when injured or don’t train properly).

Ross Miller, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, was involved in a study to try to figure out a puzzle: why, if running pounds knees so hard, don’t more runners develop conditions like osteoarthritis?

He knew that some recent studies with animals intimated that cartilage might be more resilient than researchers previously had believed ... animals that ran tended to have thicker, healthier knee cartilage than comparable tissues from sedentary animals.

The study looked at what would theoretically happen to the healthy knee cartilage of two groups: one would walk six kilometers (roughly 3.7 miles) a day for years, the other instead would walk for three kilometers and run for three.

It’s admittedly a bit confusing to follow what was going on: volunteers were going around a track that had embedded force plates, which measured the impact of running and walking. The collected data was fed into complex computer simulations, that drew on lots of other data too.

Now, here’s the really interesting part, and the Times explanation is a bit confusing, so I'm going to simplify.

There are three possible scenarios for cartilage and how it responds to running:

(1) The cartilage can’t change to adapt to the harsh forces (and therefore would be expected to deteriorate over time).

(2) The cartilage can slightly repair itself after repeated minor damage.

(3) The cartilage can remodel itself and adapt to the intense forces, growing thicker and stronger, just as exercise builds up muscles.

If you were to poll most orthopedists, I bet their beliefs would fall mainly into scenario (1) and (2), but certainly not (3).


If you assume (1) is true, runners have a 98% chance of developing arthritis in their knee joints, the study found. Even if you assume (2), the slight repair taking place isn’t enough to counter the frequent running, and their chances of arthritis decline only a bit, to 95%.

But if you assume (3), they have a 13% chance of eventually suffering from arthritis, which is the same as for the people who were walkers only. This does seem to match up with evidence that the incidence of arthritis among dedicated runners isn’t higher, and may be lower, than for the rest of the population.

The article concludes:

What these results suggest is that cartilage is malleable, Dr. Ross says. It must be able to sense the strains and slight damage from running and rebuild itself, becoming stronger. In this scenario, running bolsters cartilage health.

I can’t say this would surprise me.

I just hope orthopedic doctors see this article too.