When I think about what this year brought me, one thing dominates it: having ACL reconstruction surgery. It felt like everything fell to the side or was simply an accessory to it, and I have to wonder if I have let it define my year. I am sure I will forget what this has all been like to a certain extent. It has changed me physically and also mentally as well. It has brought a massive emotional challenge and has redefined the kind of person I thought I was. I can’t understate how life changing this has been.
Prior to the injury, I felt a certain sense of invincibility. It felt like serious injuries were things that happened to other people. Now that I am ‘one of the fallen’, I hope I can share what I’ve learned and assist others in both preventing and recovering from similar injuries. So I would like to make this a bit of a recap post, but first a quick update of where I am at 19 weeks post operation.
I have had a couple of visits to my physio since my last post including today. When asked, I reported that I would rate my diligence at sticking with the routine as a 6/10. When I gave myself this healthy B-/C+ score I am probably being a bit of a harsh assessor, but he felt like I was doing reasonably well considering my lifestyle. After all, I am not being paid to do rehab, like an elite athlete would be. I am not too willing to spend any longer at the gym than 1 hour a session around full time work, and I haven’t been making it every day, especially in the past couple of weeks. But I have definitely been going regularly, at least 4-5 times per week. I usually spend about 20 minutes on the stationary bike, consciously attempting intervals of different resistance and speed, and then I do a pair of upper body exercises followed by a 3-5 sets of the prescribed exercises. This usually goes for a total of around 65-70 minutes, and when you add getting there, getting changed and finding a bloody parking spot, it takes around an hour and a half out of my day.
My current routine of exercises for my ACL baby include things like lateral hops, a variety of jumps, knee extensions, and some other various things that focus on balance, proprioception, and strength. My physio has encouraged freedom to incorporate some roller derby specific cross-training I did prior to surgery into my routine. If people are interested in specific exercises, I’m happy to post some of them. Let me know.
As per my last post, I am not cleared to run, let alone skate, until my next surgical review which is at the end of February, which is over 7 months post operation. This feels unusual and quite conservative compared to other recovery programs I’ve seen online, but I would rather follow my surgeon’s advice and be safe rather than sorry. The physio indicated he would have had me jogging and trying out a bit of skating by now. But we better listen to the man with the bigger qualifications. He made my knee, after all.
Personally, I have started to feel pretty normal. My walking gate is normal and I am not walking slowly any more. My VMO muscle has come to the party and my leg muscles are looking fairly even. My physio says this is thanks to the effort I’ve been putting in. I can sit cross legged comfortably on the floor with a pillow tucked under my leg, which is the same as pre-surgery/post injury at this point. I have dabbled in some yoga practice thanks to my old friend Adriene on YouTube. I plan to increase all of my routine to a good 2 hours every day now that I am on a holiday break, and get myself set up from a strong position to kick off 2020. The past few weeks in particular have had me feeling so good that I have even had dreams fantasizing about running. This is hilarious because I fucking hate running. But needless to say, the first thing I’ll do when I am cleared for it, is go for a jog.
So now the recap is done of the past weeks, here is a recap of the year for those who don’t know…
My Magical Journey Timeline!
- I sustained the injury 11th of April. I felt a terrible pop and it was very painful, but I was able to walk and then drive home. The next morning I fell over brushing my hair, and then I cried at work and was sent home. I saw a GP who cleared me for concussion and diagnosed me tentatively with a mild knee sprain. RICE and maybe come back if I was still concerned. I wasn’t.
- In the next two weeks, I flew to the eastern states to visit family (I live in Western Australia). I was slightly limping the whole time, walking all over both Sydney and Canberra like a madwoman, and was also dizzy/nauseous the whole time. I suspect now I had a moderately bad concussion caused by perhaps a series of falls at the scrimmage that was missed by diagnosis. My walking improved after my knee ‘popped’ again (which may have been the tear fully ripping all the way?) and I thought that was that.
- When I returned I attempted to return to skate in a scrimmage. Surprised, I realised my knee couldn’t do any lateral movement during the warm up and had to sit out the game. The next morning I cried at work again. I made a chart for crying at work because this was becoming a joke. My colleagues joined in to tally their crying. Fun. (We cry a lot in the Arts Department).
- In May, I went to a physio who worked with me to rehab my ‘sprain’. Not once did he suggest I had an ACL tear and he suggested it was my LCL. I worked hard on my rehab, wanting to make rosters on my team.
- 2 weeks later my physio cleared me for skating, non contact.
- 2 weeks again I was cleared for contact skating. As soon as I could do lateral movements, my knee said no. I was stronger than before, but there was something not quite right in my knee. I couldn’t perform deep cutting motions with contact, which my skating style and my sport relied on.
- I went back to a different GP and she gave me a referral for an MRI. The report registered a partial thickness tear of 1/2 a centimetre, and no meniscus damage.
- My MRI was taken to an expert in sports medicine and knee reconstruction. I was diagnosed with a full ACL tear. My rehab, now prehab, slumped and I felt bewildered by the news.
- My surgery was scheduled a few weeks later, on the 8th of August, to accommodate my work schedule better.
- I sought out a new physio, and have seen a total of 4 different physios this year.
- Now, 19 weeks later I am doing very well with my recovery and writing bullet points about it!
Documenting the Recovery
In addition to my little rehab journals, I’ve been writing lengthy, gif-laden diary entries here.
- Welcome to My Magical Journey – 3 weeks pre surgery. A summary of how I injured my knee and the swirl of things I was feeling at the time.
- Mind Games. Or, Salty Leakage. – 3 weeks pre surgery again. I was feeling ALL THE THINGS and I write about how I hate the term, ‘mental toughness’.
- Sucking at Prehab, and Thoughts of the Future – a few day pre surgery. I was feeling really sad about missing out on my sport and not being as good at prehab as I wanted to be.
- The Big Day, and the Day After. – a day or so after surgery, I write about my experience in hospital and coming home after.
- The Twilight Zone – 2 weeks PO and I write about being housebound. These days and these posts still make me laugh. It was a weird time.
- Practical Tips for Recovering from ACL surgery – the First 2 Weeks – 2 weeks PO again and I share what I found helpful for being housebound after surgery.
- Week Three is Officially the Worst – 3 weeks PO and feeling shitty for going back to work way too early.
- Weeks Four & Five: Baby Steps – 6 weeks PO and starting to feel a bit better.
- Weeks Six and Seven. Ups and Downs. – 8 weeks PO and I discuss my post operative review and starting ‘real’ physio.
- Week 11 – The Long Game, The Pool, & Proprioception -11 weeks PO and seeing different physios, feeling overwhelmed by how long this was all taking.
- Turns out, this takes a while. But I knew that? – 14 weeks post operative review and feeling bummed about conservative timelines.
What have I learned?
If I could shout certain things I have learned from the rooftops, for anyone who plays a recreational contact sport to hear, it would be these things:
- GET A SCAN. Don’t be tough. No one can see inside your knee. Not even that charming rookie physiotherapist with an ultrasound machine. He can’t see. The MRI can. GET. A. SCAN. MRIs are bulk billed in Australia if you are between 18-55 years of age and you have sustained an acute injury. Just get a freaking scan.
- We don’t know anything about brains. Take concussion seriously. It’s sad to sit out games and practice. But your brain is your life. Don’t toy with it. Get a good helmet. No, a better one. Is it on properly? Did you bang your head bad? Maybe stop playing? No recreational sport is worth brain damage.
- CROSS TRAIN. Train for strength. Train for stability. Train your core. It’s all connected. I was slacking off when I got injured. I used to do activation exercises prior to lacing up skates for knees and ankles. I wish I continued doing this practice.
- If you’re busy and/or tired, it’s okay to skip practice. You do this for fun. Don’t be so all or nothing about it. Or it will come back to bite you. It’s also okay to take a longer break. Rosters are temporary, some injuries are forever.
- You will collect a range of secondary injuries during recovery and everything is all connected. I hurt my back a few times during this whole saga and my mental wellness took a blow. You just have to give yourself a break and go easy on yourself. Rehab is meant to make you feel better, not worse.
- Sometimes, bad stuff just happens. And you will be stronger for it. I am.
I have a feeling this is my last post for a little while, at least until I am cleared for skating again. Thanks for reading about my story, in what has been largely a venting space. Like I mentioned in earlier posts, I would have loved to read something like this when I first learned about the true nature of my injury. It would have been a huge comfort. I could write more posts, about resources I’ve used, exercises I’ve done… but my attention is starting to become less on this injury, and more on my future. With two good knees.
I’ll see you in 2020, whatever it brings…