Saturday, October 1, 2011

How to Heal Bad Knees: A Reader Shares a Story

I'm going to get off the soapbox this week (I had planned to write about the purpose of keeping a knee journal -- I'll save it for next time) because I found a wonderful story waiting for me in the comments section of a past post.

So I'd like to turn the podium over to this unnamed commenter (with a few of my remarks at the end):
A few years ago I too was diagnosed with patellafemoral syndrome (chondromalacia of patella) and was only able to shake it after reading Doug's blog on articular cartilage. Like the above emailer, mine was so bad I couldn't walk for more than a minute or two without increased pain.

So here's what I did:
1)crutches with no weight bearing on affected leg for 3 days.
2)crutches with putting some weight (maybe 50%) on my affected leg for another 5 days. By now the knee was largely pain-free, but I could tell if I did too much it would start hurting again.
3)took it easy for the next couple of weeks by only walking for a few minutes per pop, made sure when on stairs to only take the initial step up with my good leg.
4)built up my walking stamina and using both legs for stairs over the next 5 months. was back to running at month 6, doing the couch to 5k program. A few years later now, and I'm back to marathon training, 100% pain-free knee.

Now, I also had a 40 hour/week desk job during this ordeal. I basically just made sure to flex and extend my knee (pain-free range, which started off with maybe 10 degrees of movement!) every few minutes on a small bosu ball I brought to work (like Doug's skate board recommendation). I also lightly (10% of strength) pushed my foot into the floor or wall of cubicle starting at about 100 times a day, up to 1000 times (and built up the pressure used as long as it didn't hurt the next day). I also did squats at around 4 weeks, but did them with reduced weight bearing (kind of like dips for your chest but with my feet on the ground), and not to sound like a broken record, but built up my weight bearing on this as well.

I'd be interested to try my experiment again without the use of crutches - maybe my decreased weight bearing, high rep exercises would've been enough.

By the way, I was so psyched by my results and by Doug's blog, I decided to switch careers; now I'm just a few weeks away from graduating from PTA school.
Beautiful story -- I love it, especially the crowning touch "now I'm just a few weeks away from graduating from PTA school." Because we need more physical therapists who are this smart about healing chondromalacia-related knee pain!

What this person did reminds me a lot of my own recovery: doing lots of high-repetition, low-load movement. Pushing the envelope on the exercise program, but very slowly, so as to get stronger while avoiding a relapse. Carefully monitoring for symptoms -- not during exercise or 15 minutes later, but the next day (your damaged cartilage has no nerve endings, remember!). Overcoming the ultimate "bad knee environment," the white-collar workplace (I finally had to quit my 50-hour-a-week job; I congratulate this commenter on resolving the problem of prolonged bent-knee sitting through doing quiet exercises in the cubicle).

That this person could return to running in six months struck me as impressive. My objective was to ride my bicycle again, pain free, and it took me more than 13 months to achieve that. Anyway the upshot is the same: healing from chronic knee pain has to be measured in multiples of months (five or six at least), so patience is needed.

Your aching knees can heal! It's not just my story anymore; I'm convinced there are many more happy stories out there too, and my fervent wish is that someday -- SOMEDAY -- the medical community will become curious enough about how cartilage heals naturally to launch some good studies that will lead, hopefully, to a revision of the gloom-and-doom thinking about the outlook for patients with chronic knee pain.


  1. awesome story! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow! Great story!

    I especially like the tip about pushing the foot into the floor or wall 100 times per day building up to 1000 times per day. I'm going to try it.

  3. Quite inspiring!