The question of how to deal with setbacks came up recently in the comments section. It’s a great question because I doubt even the smartest, most patient person can navigate a healing process that spans many months without a single setback.
First, why are setbacks so bad, when it comes to overcoming chronic knee pain?
They’re depressing. Really depressing. It’s not like you were healing that fast to begin with, right? So you feel a little better after two months of doing all the right things, then do something wrong -- you may not even be sure what -- and suddenly you hurt as much as you did before.
Argh. Bad knees are forever, you start thinking to yourself. At this point, you’re particularly prone to negativity, self-pity, and a bunch of other bad feelings.
Also, at this point, you’re prone to abandoning what works. After all, you tried to improve your joints very, very slowly, you were feeling somewhat better, then an ill-advised hike/long walk/sprint to catch the bus set you back.
Maybe you start thinking: “This program can’t be working -- it’s too slow and if my joints are getting stronger, how can a little x (whatever the offending activity was) cause such problems? Ah, forget it. It’s time for surgery/pain medication/a life of doing whatever I want because it doesn’t matter anyway.”
You feel lost, not knowing how far you were set back. To me, this is a big issue, especially when you’re measuring hard-fought gains in inches, figuratively speaking.
Obviously, you want to get back on track. But do you take a few easy days? An easy week? Should you return to your program of three weeks before, when you were taking 20 percent fewer steps each day? Or do you need to hit the reset button more dramatically, and go back three months, maybe to when you weren’t even taking long walks yet?
These are frustrating, demoralizing questions to deal with. You’ll want to downplay the significance of the setback. You’ll want to act as if you were less affected than you really were -- which raises the risk of doing more damage to your joints.
Okay, that’s why setbacks are bad, in my opinion. Now, how to deal with them?
Make sure they don’t happen.
No, that’s not meant to be a “d’oh” statement. Because I believe you really need to be thinking hard about not pushing your knees too much.
So this means (1) Err on the conservative side with activity. (2) Monitor your knees very closely. (3) Learn as much as you can from whatever setbacks you do have. Failures are never wasted when they’re recycled into knowledge (that in turn prevents future similar failures).
Recognize and accept the setback.
The worst thing, I think, is pretending it never happened and just merrily going on with your existing program, not changing a thing, not reflecting on how and why you screwed up. Because then your knees may just get worse and you’ll be no smarter for what you just went through.
Instead, my advice is to face it head on. You may be lucky -- maybe you just need to take an easy day or two and you’re right back on track. If not, you’ll probably have to experiment a little to figure out what level/type of activity your suffering knees are now happy with.
Know you’re in good company.
I had setbacks. And I bet that almost everyone whose knees healed over a 12-month-plus timeframe had at least one setback. They happen. So it’s good to be philosophical about something that’s practically inevitable.
Some years ago, I remember getting very angry at myself for losing/misplacing something. How could I be so stupid? Then I decided to take a larger view of the situation, and it relaxed me somewhat. The larger view was this: Over the course of anyone’s life, that person will lose or misplace a certain number of things. So, unless I lose personal items at an extraordinarily high rate (suggesting say Alzheimer’s), the occasional object that goes missing is just me filling my cosmic quota. :) No big whoop.
Cry if you need to.
Throw something across the room. Curse the unforgiving God of Bad Knees for not cutting you a break.
After all that, figure out how to get back on that slow path going forward. Because that’s the only way to go, isn’t it, if you want to win back your old life?