In the previous article, I described the 55-year path to my first serious visit to the GPs with my errant left knee. Marathon now achieved and with the knee still not right, I made an appointment and headed up the road to the surgery.
I explained the situation, how I’d over-stretched it whilst running down a steep path off the moors. Examination over, he thought the damage was temporary and would ease in time. He made an appointment for me with the physio team and I was asked to report back on progress. I also mentioned the odd “twisted” pain I had felt on the inside of my left knee, on the lower part of the joint. This was unconnected to the running injury as I’d had had it, and ignored it, for a while.
After seeing the physio and with the over-stretching problem finally gone, I returned to the docs who decided to refer me to a knee specialist over the “twisted” pain.
The first examination was the MRI scan (I am glad it was just my knee inside the scanner – not a pleasant, relaxing experience!). Off I went to the consultant, whose first reaction on seeing the scan result was that I needed a new knee. Before he made the final decision, he sent me off for a standing X-ray. On seeing this he changed his mind, there was a small layer of cartilage there; he changed his mind to an Arthroscopy.
The operation was booked for right at the end of August 2016. A summer holiday driving down through France to Switzerland and Italy was booked and my wife and I had a few lovely runs (Sue was training for her first Great North Run. I was booked in to do it, but had to cancel it once I knew the operation date).
Holiday over, I turned up at the hospital for the op. All went well; a 3-4 (out of 5) tear in the cartilage was discovered and whilst that was untreatable, the consultant “tidied up in there a bit”. Once I’d come round from the General and had managed to walk to the loo, I was allowed home.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the recovery period – it happened without any issues. The swelling went down and the wound healed and in time I was back driving. The “twisted” pain had gone and I resumed my normal life – taking folks out walking and I resumed running.
Well sort of. I had signed up with two friends to do a team triathlon in October. I don’t swim and wasn’t much of a cyclist at the time, so the last, running leg, was mine. I got around, enjoyed it but it was evident that my left knee wasn’t happy. The tiny bit of cartilage I had left wasn’t able to perform its duties as a shock absorber very well. Suddenly the awful realisation dawned; my running days were over. I loved running, it was a quick and efficient way of keeping fit, that worked around my work schedule. Apart from trainers, I didn’t need anything too technical (apart for the GPS watch etc!).
Faced with a run-free future I took to two wheels, dusting off my mountain bike and the third-hand bike I’d been given by my son when he bought a new one. I didn’t enjoy it as much as running and it felt a faff getting myself and bike ready just to go out and exercise. But at least it was a good aerobic exercise that would help me keep the weight off and the heart working.
February 2017 found us up on the Northumberland Coast, a cool breeze was off-set by gorgeous blue skies. We went to Craster and looked up the coast to Dunstanborough Castle. “Shall we have a gentle run there?” I asked. Off we went, following the coastline path and occasionally dropping onto the beach as we passed the Castle. The dog loved it just as much as we did. And I was running again!
We stopped at Low Newton by the Sea for a coffee and snack before retracing our steps back to Craster. What a great day, maybe this was the way I could run, soft, flat trails and nothing “competitive”. My knee thought otherwise. I spent the rest of the week with a painful knee and the realisation that my running days were definitely over.
In conversation with non-running friends and acquaintances about my enforced retirement, they all blamed the running. I lay the fault at my 18-year-old self, tearing the cartilage and the subsequent lifetime of exercise wearing it away. Nothing I’ve read suggests that running does the knee joint any harm if there is no pre-existing damage.
The cycling increased, I went from 330 km in 2016, to 4100 in 2017 and 4519 in 2018. I entered Sportives and went out regularly. Over the colder wetter months I took to my turbo and Zwift which made sitting on a bike inside more bearable. My knee was fine; on a bike, I could ride for miles.
The same couldn’t be said for walking. Once the effects of the arthroscopy were over, whilst the “twisting” pain I had had before had now gone, there was an increasing feeling of bone on bone. It was a gradual growth in awareness but I became increasingly more aware of it. Leading navigation walks became more painful, especially on rougher ground. My role as a leader was to look after my group, not having to concentrate on my needs. I went out less and employed colleagues to cover my walks.
My wife and I booked a trip to Nepal in Easter of 2019. There was no way I didn’t want to walk there, so I took some light-weight walking poles which I used for the three good walks we did. The knee stood up to the test but it still wasn’t comfortable. I’d get sudden jabs of pain, even moving the duvet with my leg at night was painful at times. It became increasingly evident that my knee needed looking at again.
I went to the GP and went through the issue with him. I was 58 and fit but unable to fully achieve what I wished to. His initial response was that new knees only lasted 20-25 years and did I really want to have another new knee in my eighties! Too right I did, but most importantly I wanted to enjoy my life and stay active now.
An appointment was made with Mr Brown at the Northern General’s Orthopaedic Department in Sheffield. The button had been pressed.