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How I Discovered I Needed Microfracture Surgery

last week i initiated discussions on cartilage defects with my post “Microfracture, and the One Orthopedic Problem There Isn’t a Real Solution For,”  today i will back-up a few steps to explain how my knee was acting, leading up to conversations regarding microfracture, the future of my knee, my lifestyle, my health, and my sanity.

in the spring of 2013 i relocated to Hermosa beach, California with high hopes of competing amongst the top beach volleyball athletes in the nation. i arrived with a skip in my step and an uncontainable enthusiasm to have the opportunity to compete at the highest level. volleyball had always been at the forefront of my life, but beach volleyball was newly introduced to me a few years previous. i quickly discovered that i was the most enthusiastic (and the most successful) when i was competing on the sand.

when i arrived in the South Bay, before i had even unpacked my bags, i started training on the beach. i was experiencing new games, new athletes, new styles of play, new people, and new competition on a daily basis. i had never had any knee issues previously, so i hit the beach, and i hit it hard. i was training at as high of a level as i could, as often as i could.

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after a few weeks my knee started to hurt. it was an achy pain inside the joint that was noticeable, but tolerable. like us athletes do, i continued playing, but i integrated more ibuprofen and ice into my routine.

march arrived, which meant the beginning of the CBVA (California Beach Volleyball Association) tournaments, and I was thrilled and nervous all at the same time. i had been very successful competing on the east coast, but i wasn’t 100% sure where my skill level stacked up to the CA girls who were able to train and compete year round.

the morning of my first tournament the knee felt good. not great, but good. my partner and i headed to the beach and i packed my bag full of ibuprofen, ice packs, icyhot, and a knee sleeve. we found our rhythm as a team very quickly on the court, and in no time we realized that we actually were quite good. between every game we would collect ourselves and refuel on the sideline.

while resting, my knee would stiffen up in a way that i had never experienced before. it felt like it was completely swollen with fluid; but when i looked at it, it wasn’t actually swollen at all. upon standing it was locked into a straight position and i couldn’t bend it.

our next match was approaching and i needed to loosen it up, so i started hobbling around in circles. step by step it got a bit better and my hobble turned into a walk. with each minute that passed i gained more mobility until eventually i could bend it again. once i could, my walk turned into a jog. and once i could jog, it was time to jump back out on the court.

i played the full tournament like that. it was the same routine between every match. the pain was definitely noticeable, but i wasn’t going to let it distract me from our goal.

we won our pool and advanced into tournament play.

during our break, i took the knee sleeve off to look at it again. again it looked normal. no swelling. nothing abnormal to the eye. so i slipped the sleeve back on, walked around in circles until it would bend, and stepped back onto the court.

our hard work paid off. we won a tight semi-finals match and went on to the finals. i remember my knee feeling weak in those last matches, but trying to make sure no one could tell i was hurting.  i wasn’t as dynamic; and i couldn’t push-off of my right leg with much power, but my partner stepped up to the plate and compensated for my tired knee.

we pressed on, and we won! our first California tournament, and we had won the whole thing and earned our AAA. to say i was thrilled, elated, and on-top-of-the-world, doesn’t begin to explain my emotion.

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it was the most excellent start to a new career on the beach, and i went out that night to celebrate with friends.

the last thing i was thinking about was my sore knee.

… until I woke up the next morning, and my knee cap had suddenly disappeared.

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at that point i realized there was something going on in the joint that was greater than what i had originally thought. i had intended on competing in the upcoming two weekends, but i decided to play it safe. i put my “toughness” aside and i took some time off for a little rest. in my experiences two weeks was a very reasonable amount of time to rest an injury. after which i could reassess how things felt. i didn’t play volleyball, nor did i participate in any high impact activities. i walked and biked along the strand, watching my volleyball family play game after game after game. the swelling disappeared, and the pain dissipated.

after a solid 14 days, i set up multiple training sessions during the week leading up to my next competition. my older sister had arranged to fly down to watch my tournament so there was a lot to look forward to over the weekend. the thursday before the tournament i went out for one last training session. i played, and i played hard; and my knee was not happy about it.

friday morning my knee transformed into a cantaloupe, and when i went to grab my sister from the airport (who happens to be a doctor) she too one look at my knee and quickly told me that she would not only not let me play in the tournament, but that she also wouldn’t leave town until i had scheduled an MRI. thank goodness for medical sisters that can knock some sense into stubborn athletes like myself.

she was right. in spite of my deepest desires to continue competing, i was compromising my future as an athlete, and even as a happy semi-active person.  the MRI scans showed two indisputable cartilage defects in my knee, and multiple loose bodies floating around inside my joint.

at this point i didn’t quite realize the gravity of this injury and what it meant long-term, but the eventual decision i made, (after having shared my injury and my scans with multiple doctors), was to have microfracture.

in last week’s post, “Microfracture, and the One Orthopedic Problem There Isn’t a Real Solution For,” the arriving at this decision was discussed. it wasn’t an easy one, but it was ultimately my only option.  

i had two cartilage defects inside my knee.  both were 2cm by 2cm; the maximum size of defect one could have and still have microfracture performed. i couldn’t help but wonder if i wouldn’t have tried to “tough it out” and “play through the pain” if i would have had less damage in my knee; and therefore a greater risk of recovery.  but it was too late for that. i couldn’t change the past, but i had to take action immediately so that i could put an end to further deterioration in the future.

microfracture recovery required 6 – 8 weeks on crutches.  completely non-weight bearing.  no strenuous activity for 6 months, and from there the timeline was a bit unknown. doctors weren’t able to give me an accurate timeline of recovery, because every individual is different.  but two things were certain, i didn’t have any other options, and it was going to be a long year.

THIS IS ENTRY #2 THAT I PLAN ON ADDING REGARDING MY EXPERIENCES WITH MICROFRACTURE. MORE DETAILS TO COME REGARDING MY SURGERY, MY DEFECTS, THE TIMELINE OF MY RECOVERY, MY BATTLES, AND MORE. CLICK HERE TO READY ENTRY #1.

 

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THESE POSTS DO NOT ACT AS MEDICAL ADVICE. I DO NOT HAVE A MEDICAL BACKGROUND AND THIS IS SIMPLY ME SHARING MY PERSONAL ACCOUNT WITH MICROFRACTURE. I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT MICROFRACTURE IS LIKELY A VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS NOT HIGHLY ACTIVE. BUT FOR THOSE WHOSE HAPPINESS IS GREATLY INFLUENCED BY THEIR ACTIVITY LEVELS, I HOPE THESE POSTS CAN PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION ON THIS OPERATION AND OVERALL EXPERIENCE.

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