Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pop goes the knee: Dealing with injury

Sometimes when climbing we have to bend and tweak limbs in unnatural ways.  Occasionally our bodies decide they want to make it very clear how unnatural these positions are and communicate it with a loud pop and shearing pain.  Two weeks ago one of these unfortunate reminders from my knee and between the brooding, complaining and worrying I've also been reflecting on how I deal with injury.  So here is a standard chronological(ish) take at how obsessive climbers (or maybe just me) respond to injuries.

  1. Panic is almost always the initial reaction and it happens instantaneously.  Along with the requisite profanities and/or shrieks of pain the first thoughts are of how long I'll be out of climbing.  This concern over when I'll be able to climb injury free is immediate and remains in the forefront for the duration of the injury whether one day or one year.  For myself and most obsessive climbers I know the idea of not being able to climb for a day due to bad weather send us into grumpy mode so you can imagine the utter terror at the idea of being out of climbing for an extended time.  "Am I out for an hour?  Four weeks?  Four months?  Longer? Should I cancel my trip to Tennessee?  What the hell am I going to do if I can't climb?"  
  2. Denial.  Once given a couple moments to compose myself I put aside the thoughts of never being able to climb again and hop right in to denial.  "That nasty popping sound was nothing.  I'll just walk it out and be back on the rock in a minute or two".  The denial period is short lived as misguided attempts to put climbing shoes back on only result in unbearable pain and we fall back to panic mode. The luxury of denial is of course never afforded to the most serious of injuries as it's hard to sugarcoat bone sticking out of skin.  Denial is not limited to the initial incident but continually pops up throughout the healing process.  Denial (or maybe it's just extreme optimism) causes delusional climbers to start cranking before the injury is ready and is generally counter productive, resulting in re-injury, more time off from climbing and a return to panic mode.
  3. Anger at myself general pops up as most of my injures could have been avoided with a little preparation/foresight.  "Why didn't I just scope out the top and make sure it wasn't wet."  Hindsight is after all 20/20 and it's best to get over hating yourself or the road to recovery is going to be rough.  Take a few lashes and move on. 
  4. Acceptance has to come sooner or later.  The first minutes or so after an injure are generally a dizzying cycle between panic, anger and denial and it's exhausting and not at all productive so moving on can be refreshing.  Acceptance starts with properly assessing the injury/situation which for me often involves a call to friends/family in the medical profession to see if they can provide some expert insight (thanks to everyone that tolerates the climbers in their lives using them for free medical advice).  When assessing the injury I'm also confronted with the practicalities like "can I hike back to the car?" and "will I be able to work?".  These concerns are important but generally just a distraction from my big question which is "when can I climb again?".  This latest injury was of enough concern that I even went to the hospital and get my knee looked at.  On a side note, this is only an option for me since I live in Sweden as I'd never go to the emergency room in the States unless bone is sticking out and I had a good bankruptcy lawyer.  Acceptance is something I'm getting better at but it's still not easy as I've never been good at "taking it easy" and constantly want to "test" the injury (see Denial and how productive that is).  Once I've accepted the reality of my injury it comes down to the hardest part.
  5. Patience can be hard when it involves not doing the thing you're passionate about but for most injuries it's just a waiting game.  Now I just need to give the injury the time it needs and do some rehab to help it along without spiraling into depression.  Waiting has never been something I'm good at as I general try to start climbing on my injuries too early (again, see Denial) and they therefore take their precious time getting better.  As I get older I do realize the need to be nice to our bodies if we want them to preform and I'm getting better at finding distractions while I recover.
So that was a simplification of the initial process without going into battling depression and trying to maintain fitness during injury.  Maybe I'll do a post about that later since I can't climb I have to find other things to do, like write a windy blog-post pertaining to nothing of importance.

Hope everyone stays injury free

And for those that are interested, I tore my lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and while it doesn't require an operation the time-frame for recovery is generally anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks.  It's been two weeks and doesn't feel much better so I'm not holding out much hope for the 3 week recovery.  I guess it could be worse.  I'll hobble around and just hope I'm able to climb a little by Nov 11th when I fly to Tennessee.


Tore said...

Have had my knee pop a couple of times in the past and swore to never put it in the "heel hook with downward pointing knee position". seems avoiding those positions is key. as with monos. no boulderproblem is worth a 3 month layoff. a brace will help to some degree. hope you'll recover quickly enough for another trip to rogaland in spring!

Robert said...

Very sorry to hear this bro!
I wish you a quick recovery so we can hit the rock in the states as it deserves.
See you on wednesday for some planing.

Anonymous said...

That sucks! Hope it heals fast! //Maja

John Vleugels Antonson said...

Walker, starting next week we´ll be at the attic and on the fingerboard again. If you are comfortable landing on one leg please join us. Even if you can´t do it at your max it would be nice hanging out with you.

walkerkearney said...

Thanks guys. It's starting to feel better and I even test "climbed" on it with minimal pain. Feeling optimistic.