On my list of topics to revisit, I included a left knee update. This story took a lot longer than I expected. I think it is boring, but maybe someone can learn something from my experience. Here goes.
In 2013, I began to experience knee pain, which I described in the post My Left Knee is Bumming Me Out. Being a stubborn person who will do anything to avoid going to a doctor, I tried a few things to help my knee – including more rest – but I wasn’t getting any results.
Then in 2014, I left Seattle for the San Francisco area for 6 months. I decided to worry about my knee later. I had a city with hills to explore. Well, 6 months turned into 13 months. I urban hiked hundreds of miles.
On steeper streets, I walked slower, because I only had pain when the knee was more bent. I favored my right leg more and more. And because I couldn’t do any leg exercises in the gym, my left leg lost muscle. My right leg lost some too because I didn’t see the point in further building up the strong leg. I’m aware there is research that exercising the good leg can benefit the weak one, but I wasn’t inspired.
In 2015 I decided to finally see a doctor. To my surprise the X-rays showed nothing, so he sent me to a physical therapist. If the physical therapist said my problem was worse, I would get an MRI. I needed that sign-off first though. OK, I’ll play the game.
At my first visit, the physical therapist took me through a few movements and told me I didn’t need surgery and that we would be able to strengthen my knee. At first, I was skeptical, but she explained to me what she was seeing in my movement and how she would go about fixing my knee.
I did custom leg exercises to strengthen all the muscles supporting the knee. Because they had atrophied so much, the knee didn’t have a chance to heal. Making them stronger would take the pressure off the knee, which they did. She also used tape to hold my knee into place, because it was floating to the left, which made it not only inefficient but painful.
After about 2 months, my knee was strong enough to do bodyweight squats to parallel with no pain. I was back!
In 2016, I used the leg press to regain strength. My strength tripled in 6 months. Then I got overconfident and pushed the weight too much and it set me back a few months. But I’m fine now. I don’t know if my knee will ever be 100%, but I’m gaining a little bit more strength each month. On steep hills, I occasionally will lose some stability. Nothing serious though.
I got tremendous benefits from the knee exercises and using a stiff foam roller on my IT Band. Some people discount the foam roller, but all I know is it was one part of my recovery plan that worked.
September 2017 UPDATE: On YouTube, you will several videos warning you not to foam roll directly onto your IT Band. They make a good case, so I no longer roll my IT Band. There are several good videos that can provide guidance on safe and effective foam rolling.