Someone reached out to me recently, asking (basically) the question above.
It’s a very good one. After I got better, my brother said that if he were me, he wouldn’t go back to the intense cycling I enjoy so much. Yet I did. And so far, my knees have been fine.
Was I foolish to do so?
I don’t think so. Here’s why:
* You should never go back to doing exactly what you were doing that caused the knee injury. That seems kind of stupid. For instance, if you decide to train by jumping off the roof of your shed, then springing up and running three miles, and you hurt your knees one day jumping off the shed -- why the heck would you keep doing that after your knees healed? :)
Or, in my case: I was cycling up steep hills, doing short sprints on those climbs, all while dehydrated -- and doing this back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Would I do that again? Nope. I wouldn’t sprint uphill. I would carry more water. I wouldn’t do a max effort on Saturday and try to do a max effort again on Sunday.
* You have to get smarter in general. I still ride really, really hard. But I’m smarter about making sure I warm up properly. And in temperatures below 55 degrees, I always put on knee warmers (sleeves that cover the knees and a bit of the legs). Always.
Being smarter doesn’t mean I can’t charge up the hill with the rest of the pack on a ride. It does mean that I’m more careful about exercising in a knee-friendly way.
* I still listen carefully to my knees. There isn’t much to listen to now, thankfully. But I’m ever alert to early warning signs. If my joints started getting really noisy and crunchy again, you better believe I’d modify my behavior.
Knowing how to listen to your knees is especially important if you return to the activity that injured them in the first place. You don’t want to be grounded with chronic knee pain again. One reason you may not be is because you know what the danger signs are that you ignored the first time around. The key is not to do so the second time.