Friday, July 19, 2013

To Beat Knee Pain, You Don’t Have To Be Crazy, But It Helps

Time to tell a story on myself.

A friend of mine works out at the same gym I do. She often hops on one of the many cardio machines arranged in long rows near the front desk -- giving her a vantage point that lets her observe the club’s members as they first enter the workout area. Not long ago, she said to me something like:

“Every time you come in, you get some paper towels, then weigh yourself. Every single time. It’s funny.”


It’s very much true. I’m a creature of habit.

Partly, I think, this sort of behavior arises from a desire to know what to expect in life. This pays off in mundane ways. For example, I don’t enjoy hunting high and low for lost keys. So I put them in a special place in the apartment. All the time.

So instead of muttering about my lost keys and roaming rooms in a fit of pique for 10 minutes, I can scoop up the keys and spend those 10 minutes doing something I enjoy.

Of course, not to paint this characteristic as all virtuous: there is a decidedly anal tendency at work here. Sure, it makes sense to get your paper towels right before your workout, before you leave sweaty palm prints on the handlebars of the stationary bike. But, even if you believe it’s a good idea to maintain a stable weight, do you have to weigh yourself three times a week?

Nah. Not really.

I’m just curious about how my weight fluctuates and, well, it’s a habit. You know.

What does all this have to do with winning the knee pain battle?

A lot, actually.

I developed a number of “healthy knee” habits while I was hurt and trying to recover. Like, for example, wearing a pedometer. This became such an ingrained habit that if I left my apartment building to go on a journey of more than a few hundred steps, and I wasn’t wearing my little blue step counter, I would stop in mid-stride on realizing my error.

And turn around and go get it.

Another habit, of course, was my daily walking. I was consistent about doing it, and making sure I did exactly the self-prescribed amount (in other words, I wasn’t walking 4,000 steps one day, 6,500 the next -- I stuck to one distance, until my knees were strong enough to graduate to the next level). I also walked the same old routes (which sounds boring, but helped me because, if I had an onset of knee discomfort, I knew it wasn’t because I had strayed from my routine and say walked up hills instead of over flat terrain.)



But effective.

I think it’s effective because your knees know what to expect (no surprise 10-mile hikes). At the same time, you come to know what to expect from your knees (what makes them happy, what makes them grumble). And step by step, they start to grow stronger.

Not everyone is as “crazy” as I am, I’m sure, when it comes to their daily routines. Still, if you’re trying to beat a stubborn foe like knee pain, being a little crazy may not hurt.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this blog post, especially about how boring it is to heal one's knees.

    It reminds me of the times when I start to say "I'm trying as hard as I can to fix my knee...." but then I have to stop short and reflect that "trying hard" is not the correct phrase.

    "Trying hard" is more appropriate when you are trying to get that last muscle rep in before your muscles hit exhaustion.

    "Trying hard" is more appropriate for when you stay up until 3 am studying until you've mastered all the knowledge for the exam.

    "Trying hard" is when you're biking up a steep grade chanting "I think I can, I think I can" and you push yourself to stay on the bike all the way to the crest despite the fact you're barely moving.

    But, that sort of "trying hard" absolutely backfires for healing knees.

    Instead, what's needed is repetative routines during which I must deliberately NOT "try hard" and conscientiously NOT push myself. No urging myself to try harder by adding more resistance to the stationary bike, no goading myself to bike faster, no well-intended pushing myself to walk further.

    And that's tough because it's boring and uninspiring.