Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zen and the Art of Knee Maintenance

A few weeks ago, cycling with the guys (they mostly are) on my Saturday morning ride, my Litespeed began attracting attention. And not in a good way.

Something was rattling. Something was rattling loud enough, in fact, that other cyclists were riding up alongside me, saying, "Hey, what's that noise your bike's making?"

Having a rattling bike is bad on a number of fronts: (1) It can be dangerous, to you and to other members of the peloton. (2) It marks you as an idiot who can't take proper care of his bike. (3) It's just, well, uncool.

The thing is, I had noticed the noise before. I just hadn't paid much attention to it. It was just a background irritant during the ride. So when I finally realized, "Man, I gotta fix this," the first issue I had to confront: I hadn't gathered much useful intelligence about the rattling (which tended to come and go).

Meaning: What made it start? What made it worse? Did it matter which gear I was in? Whether I was pedaling? Did I have to be pedaling with great force (such as going uphill)? Did it make any difference whether the road was smooth or rough?

Well, I wish I could say that after observing my bike closely during a two-hour-plus ride, I made a bunch of observations that led me to figure out what was causing the rattle. Indeed, I did start paying close attention to the sound, and exactly when I heard it -- but another rider helped me out by surmising my cassette was loose.

The "cassette" refers to the multiple sprockets on the rear wheel that allow you to change into easier and harder gears.

When I got back, I checked the cassette and he turned out to be correct. It had a little wiggle -- not much, but enough to make a rattling sound and also to cause roughness in shifting gears, which I had noticed too. So I tightened it up and, in a matter of seconds, had a noise-free bike again.

What this anecdote has to do with knee maintenance is, well, everything.

Because when you have bad knees -- and you're not getting better, and doctors are shrugging and giving you unhelpful diagnoses, and physical therapists aren't helping either -- I believe you need to stop outsourcing responsibility for your bad joints to other people. You need to become a first-class problem solver. And that starts with learning how to listen.

You need to listen to your knees, in a way you've never listened to them before. You need to listen hard to try to learn as much as you can about how your bad joints communicate -- what certain signals of pain or discomfort mean, what makes your knees feel better, what makes them feel worse.

This has to be a sustained, full-time, learning effort. No more, "Well, the doctor told me I could ride a bike five miles three times a week, so that's what I'm doing, even if my knees don't feel so hot afterwards."

When you start listening to your knees -- really listening to your knees -- I believe you put yourself in control, acquiring the knowledge you need to make good choices. You can be smarter about deciding whether an activity or exercise program should be intensified, continued, or even stopped.

So trying to fix grumbling knees or a noisy bike starts with the same valuable skill: learning how to listen.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Assess the problem and correct in some way. Sometimes the hardest thing is convincing people to not work through pain or discomfort. The "No Pain, No Gain" attitude is the worst approach someone can have.