August 12th, 2006

hiking - drink break

Knee update, trip update, and some disappointment

When I returned home last week, with a painful knee forcing me from the trail, I slunk away from my hike with frustration and a little fear. My previous three-week layover at home had been quite enough delay; I wanted to get back into the rhythm of the trail and keep eating up the miles, and the only thing standing in my way was an aggravating injury of unknown severity.

I fretted and killed time until Monday, when I could see a physical therapist for a full diagnosis. The scariest thing about waiting was not knowing how bad it was. The pain wasn't getting worse, but it wasn't going away with rest -- which simply indicates a problem requiring intervention; it could have meant anything from a strain/sprain to a developing chronic problem to a hike-ending injury such as a hairline fracture.

As you might expect, the possibility that my hike might be over hit me hard. But Collapse )

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The preliminary diagnosis, when I met with the doc on Friday to set up a speedy appointment, was patellar tendonitis. (The patella is your kneecap; its tendons, at the front of the knee, are a pretty common sports strain.) This came as some surprise to me, because my complaint was severe pain in one of the muscles/ligaments on the outside back of my left knee, but she assured me that PT pain could refer out there.

On Monday, she hammered home the diagnosis by digging in to my knee to massage the tendons, to the tune of pain so severe I occasionally had to try to remember to breathe. Tendonitis causes muscle swelling, and the body's response to it is to try to lay down scar tissue over the area; the tissue prevents full function, and the purpose of the massage was to start breaking up the scar tissue. Something sure felt like it was breaking in there, that's for sure, so I'm glad it was in the service of a higher cause.

As a coda, I asked her to check out the other knee too -- and it turns out the tendonitis was just as bad there; it just wasn't referring out to cause the acute muscle pain that it was in my left leg. More massaging ensued.

The bottom line, I was told, is that I should expect to spend anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks off the trail, with another visit or two to supplement home treatment. And, just like that, away melted the fear and frustration, to be replaced by resignation and disappointment.

I guess it didn't really hit home until I got a professional evaluation, but on top of everything else that's happened on the trip, the knee woes are the last nail in the coffin of my thru-hike. This isn't to say I won't return to the trail once I'm cleared to hike again -- stopping now would feel like a waste -- but at this point I have no option but to give up on the idea of finishing the whole trail this year.

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