You hurt your knee. You're better now. Tell me your story!
September 10, 2019 8:07 PM   Subscribe

I overdid it on squats at one of those yell-y bootcamp-y gym classes and my right knee now has patellofemoral syndrome (pain around the kneecap). This was ~2 months ago. My knee still hurts when I hike or run up stairs. I am bummed. I'm going back to physical therapy next week, but in the meantime, it would be great to hear from people who DID recover from a knee injury. Is your knee as good as new? Did you discipline yourself to do your physical therapy exercises? Tell me your story of hope!

I have been doing the exercises the physical therapist said to do (strengthening quads and hip abductors) although I haven't been doing them 3x a day as they said -- more once a day, 5-6 times a week.

I'm in my mid-30s. I have a bad habit of pushing myself too hard in group exercise scenarios. Conversely if I'm alone I have a hard time motivating myself to work out/do physical therapy exercises. I'm starting to feel like the exercises aren't making a difference. Have you healed from a knee injury? Tell me about it!
posted by rogerroger to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Knees are persnickety but I have worked hard on my physical therapy exercises and (along my with a Synvisc injection but no surgery) I have recovered from a meniscus tear, an pain free, and am able to compete in my sport. That’s despite the fact that I’m 68 and my knees make crackling noises. Have a friend who rehabbed after an ACL rupture without surgery. Strong muscles can create excellent stability.

Physical therapy works but takes time.
posted by Peach at 8:42 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

My knees suck. I have flat feet and external rotation at my hips, and my knees have to deal with all that nonsense. I do CrossFit, so there's a lot of abuse from jumping, plus fairly heavy squats.

I had an MCL sprain about a year ago and did physical therapy, and it got my knee back to the state it was before the sprain.

Recently, I, too, had some patella issues (I assume patellar tendinitis), and I got a patellar strap, which I wore at work during the day, and also at the gym (under knee wraps that I always wear), and it really helped. It helped take care of that particular issue in a couple of weeks.

So, my knees will never be great, but when they get bad, I'm pretty confident that I can get them back to where they were.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2019

Do the exercises, they really do help. I hurt my left knee about ten years ago and it was diagnosed as patellofemoral syndrome too. I did two rounds of physio, because I did not keep up with the exercises the first time, and I got a knee brace from a sports medicine clinic that I would wear if I was running or hiking or doing other activities that might stress the knee. It did get better - I did c25k two years ago without the brace, and I have even stopped packing it when I travel (and I walk a lot when I travel, so I brought it with me for years just in case).

One thing I learned from physio that I still do is to have a smallish pillow for my knees for sleeping. If I'm sleeping on my side, it goes between the knees. If I'm sleeping on my back, it goes under them, and if I'm sleeping on my stomach it goes under my ankles. The idea is to keep the knees slightly bent and comfortable while you rest.
posted by phlox at 8:48 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I twisted and damaged my knee while ice skating. Was walking on a crutch for a while. Two months later I was still hobbling around. I went to my doctor about it and he said, "It's not the same knee now. Better get used to it." Right after that I got Influenza B and was in bed for a week, unable to get up, with a raging fever and hallucinating. When I finally got over it and got out of bed, my knee was all better.
posted by jabah at 8:54 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I dislocated my knee multiple times over a 15 year period. I dealt with severe inflammation and pain between injuries. I developed a slight limp. I went on the anti inflammation diet and discovered I’m allergic to bell peppers and they make my inflamed knee worse. That got me walking without a limp and the patellar ligament replacement and removal of bone chip floating in my joints plus PT 6 years later got rid of most of the pain.

Rest and ice in between. In PT, I really worked on developing strong muscles around the knee.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 10:10 PM on September 10, 2019

I'm kind of old, so I was pretty sure when my left knee turned into a source of almost constant agony, it would be for the duration of the rest of my days. I came across some physiotherapist's website that advocated a LOT of icing, directly digging into the exact site of the pain. Using ice cubes or little dixie cups of ice, really digging in, 15, 20 minutes a shot, 3-4 times a day. My knee pain cleared up after about 5 days of this. Tried it when I developed De Quervain's tenosynovitis, ie., "Mother's thumb", which had plagued me for over a year. Worked there too. Good luck, I hate pain.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:38 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rogerroger, I come with hope! And also some caution. I'm a runner. For the past 2 1/2 years I've been battling with patellofemoral syndrome. Here's my story...

2016 was my best running year. I did two ultras, some hiking and lots and lots of running. I felt pretty good. In March 2017 I went on a 4 day backpack trip, over some very rugged terrain and trying to cover a little more distance than I should have. Plus the weight of the pack, plus wearing boots. On the third day, I felt my knees starting to hurt, and still had another day after that to get out. I was near hobbling by the end. I thought I'd bounce back quickly, but when it wasn't happening I went to see a physio. She was a runner and understood. I had a rehab programme and joined a gym which I went to 2-3 times a week to do the rehab and strength work.

Through the rest of 2017 I made progress, got back running... and then twice more tweaked my knees by overdoing the running. Back to the start of the rehab and strength work, building up again to running.

At the start of 2018, I went on another backpack trip, and promptly felt the pain back in my knees. This one I actually recovered from pretty quickly, and I was back walking, then running soon. I was building to run a 60km ultra in July and as part of my training went on a weekend backpack trip in June. I know, I know, I fucking know! I thought I was strong enough. I wasn't. In my defence, it was again extremely rough terrain and long hours, but still... I should have known.

This set me back a lot. I was only able to sporadically run through the rest of 2018. This was while religiously continuing the 2 a week gym work, and seeing a physio every couple of weeks.

At the beginning of this year, I was running on grass - 5 sets of 1 min running, 2 mins walking. Over about 3 weeks, I built up to 10 sets of 2 mins running, 1 min walking. By late Feb and into March, I was able to run 2-3 times a week, and between 5 and 7 km. Still going to the gym 2-3 times a week. By the beginning of June was running 3 times a week and had done a longest run of 20km. The knees were slowly improving. Each week I was able to do a little more - both in the gym and running.

At the beginning of July, I did a 33km race (still my longest run in 2 1/2 years) and on Saturday I'm actually leaving to visit the USA to run a 55km trail ultra.

I feel like the knees are around 90%. I'm generally not feeling pain while running and there's no specific after-effects after a long run. All of the gym work has left me a lot stronger. I know my body, and knees, a lot better than I used too. I've learned a lot about the importance of recovery and rest. So that's my story. Some lessons...

Oh, and bear in mind I'm 57 and started running at 50. So, a), I'm old and b), I don't have a lifetime of running behind me.

- Take a long term view of this. You want to do things that will allow you to keep doing the physical activity you want and not have this issue keep cropping up. This will take time.

- You will need to allow time for the inflammation and irritation, which causes the pain, to die down. This means not doing too much too soon and aggravating things again.

- Also, don't try and do too much too soon as far as running or whatever goes. This is not something you can "run through". You need to build back up slowly and carefully.

- Do not ever go backpacking!!! Ha! I do hope to do so again, but I will be taking things a lot easier and building up to longer, harder trips.

- Do *all* of the exercises the physio gives you. I've been extremely dedicated in doing this and haven't taken shortcuts or breaks. Consistency and dedication in doing this work has benefits.

- I can't recommend gym and strength work enough. I've done a lot of different things, depending on where I've been at in my overall recovery, but things like: squats, deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, single leg step-ups, single leg extensions on a weight machine, single leg knee extensions on a weight machine. In general, single leg stuff is best. Both body-weight and actual weight exercises have been good.

- Do other work, such as core work, hip strengthening. Basically, you're working on the areas around the knee, and, for me as a runner, things to help me keep the "drive chain" in balance.

- I've found regular massages really good. And each night I spend around 45mins rolling my legs - roller, spiky ball, lacrosse ball.

I can't help you with your motivation to do all of the rehab and recovery work. You need to find that yourself. But recovery is possible. The injury itself is not a structural one, and you can come back even stronger.

Good luck!!
posted by maupuia at 12:20 AM on September 11, 2019

2006 I was training for the London marathon and as I got up to the longer distances I started to get more and more discomfort in my knee until I had to stop training. Fortunately I was able to defer my entry, saw a physio, and the exercises she gave me (mainly strengthening hip and glute muscles - I was very weak in those areas and my knees where "falling in" as I hit the ground) enabled me to run pain free in the marathon the following year.
I've made other adjustments since then but the knee problems have (touch wood) entirely gone away.
posted by crocomancer at 1:59 AM on September 11, 2019

I've had knee problems for 2 1/2 years, it started with just an odd feeling of pressure but no pain or problems then developed into pain that didn't get better with rest so I saw a physio and she prescribed massaging the tendon under the knee cap, taping and wall sits. These did improve it and I was able to get back to skating but the pain never 100% went away and it would come back with strongly during periods of rest - eg illness or christmas break.

A month or so ago I got this book (its written by someone that I and quite a few of my team have seen for various skating injuries) and did the knee pain routine (short version is foam roll quads, adductors, hip flexors, stretch quads, frog stretch for adductors then 20x decline bridges and 10x good form squats assisted if needed) and after about 3 times of doing it, my knee was feeling stronger and more pain free than it had been in years - still got that pressure feeling and it still hurts after skating if I've landed heavily on it (and sometimes crunches if I've been kneeling on it) but its been a big improvement. I'm still hoping that if I continue with it, it will eventually heal.. (and failing that I'm going to the doctor to ask for a steriod jab just to finish the job!)
posted by missmagenta at 3:04 AM on September 11, 2019

Getting on a bike and just the wrong angle, felt the pain in the knee and instantly took weight off but pulled something and it hurt lightly but distinctively, not enough to stop anything but enough to remind each step or peddle needs to be done with care. Fine now, but scanning the previous responses, yes, time, patience. Over a year on I don't notice the twinge. Patience, care, and more incredible patience.... (sigh ;-)
posted by sammyo at 6:49 AM on September 11, 2019

Oh, and ice immediately if possible.
posted by sammyo at 6:50 AM on September 11, 2019

Doing hip abductor exercises (basically #3 here) fixed my horrible knee pain. (I think I have posted this in three different AskMes but these really were a massive help in my situation and a solution I happened upon after lots misguided and ineffective physical therapy.)
posted by exogenous at 7:17 AM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Put the exercises in your calendar, set an alarm. Do you have a glass of wine in the evening or another treat? No treat until you do exercises. And keep reminding yourself that you will feel better if you do them.
posted by theora55 at 10:06 AM on September 11, 2019

Adding my voice to the choir of "do the exercises!" Also, don't stop doing them as it start to feel better. Knees are complicated and take a huge (like,staggering) amount of force. Even minor imbalances or fluid buildup can lead to pain. But the other side of that is that not all chronic knee pain means serious or unfixable problems.

I have had a few different knee problems over the years: Torn meniscus, patellofemoral syndrome, patellar tendonitis, and undiagnosed overuse injuries that may have been related to some or all three of those or something else entirely. Right now my knees are fine and healthy and I am a circus acrobat lifting people over my head every day, so they get a lot of use. There is hope.

In my experience, knees like to move. I am more likely to have pain if I stop exercising.
posted by Nothing at 12:42 PM on September 11, 2019

I had ACL surgery at 27 and was back to playing my sport (soccer) within about 9 months, though it probably took a good two years or so before I felt 100% confident in my knee's health and stability. It is now just as strong as before, and I perceive no difference between my two legs.

I did a LOT of physical therapy/rehab, like "several times a week in the therapist's office for months" a lot. If I'd been left to my own devices with just home exercises, there's no way I would've recovered as quickly or as thoroughly as I did. The at-home stuff is totally boring and frustrating, I really sympathize. Are you able to go see your physical therapist more frequently for a little while? Being accountable to another person who is literally watching you do the exercises definitely made me work a lot harder at them. But yeah, like everyone else is saying, there's no way around the PT. Knees are so weird and complicated and fussy and when something goes wrong, you have to be really diligent about strengthening and maintaining all the structures around them if you want to fully recover.

You sound so much like me, so I just want to add: make sure you're keeping an eye on your mental health. I wigged all the way out after I tore my ACL, because it turns out that a big part of my identity was wrapped up in being A Strong Person Who Does Sports and even temporarily losing that really shook me. Because I'm already prone to anxiety, I got really obsessive and impatient and frustrated and pretty much made myself extra miserable for a lot of the healing process. It didn't prevent me from recovering, but it certainly didn't HELP either. Take care of yourself!
posted by catoclock at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've had minor knee issues for a few years, but they came to a head about a year and a half ago. It hurt to walk up and down stairs, and the last straw was when my knee started buckling occasionally when walking on flat ground. I asked my physiotherapist about it and he diagnosed me with an overdeveloped outer quad and an underdeveloped VMO.

My gym routine includes leg press with my feet turned slightly outwards to target the inner quad and VMO. After doing this for the past 15 months or so, my knee feels pretty much back to 100%. It's also really satisfying to have a muscle where there was previously pretty much nothing.

So please check with your physiotherapist and get exercises. Then incorporate them into your life. Yes, it's a pain to need to set aside time to do exercises or go to the gym, but it's much better than the alternatives.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:02 PM on September 11, 2019

Rest is really important. Give it another month and don't do a lot of hiking or anything else that puts pressure on the joint. And it goes without saying but -- no more HIIT/bootcamp classes with high-volume squatting exercises, ever.
posted by schwinggg! at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2019

I had this. It took about 6-8 months of physical therapy to make a dent. Then it would hurt occasionally for about another 2-3 years but only when I put a lot of pressure on it. Then it went away. I now do heavy squats on the regular and I run and it’s all good.
posted by phoenixy at 9:21 PM on September 12, 2019

Thanks all, it really helped to hear everyone's stories (and I appreciate the DMs I got too). Reading this motivated me to pay out of pocket for a physical therapy appointment (I have Kaiser and the closest appointment they had was weeks out, ugh), be super honest with the PT about what works and what doesn't, and re-start my exercises. Crossing my fingers (knees?) that this works!
posted by rogerroger at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2019

Adding a second update in case anyone ever reads this who is going through a similar thing. Physical therapy exercises DID help, and I'm much better now. Knee pain is almost all 100% gone. I did learn I'm basically going to have to do the exercises for the rest of my life -- for me it wasn't the case of just "strengthen them and be done with it". But it works, as did being completely honest/transparent with my PT about how much I was/wasn't doing the exercises.
posted by rogerroger at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2019

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