recently, i have written about knee pain, cartilage defects, the symptoms that led me to discussions regarding microfracture, and how i made the final decision to move forward with the operation. once that decision was made, the inevitable next questions i asked (and all athletes ask) pertain to the recovery process and timeline.
physician provided information is limited, and ambiguous. every person has a different knee. the size of their cartilage defect varies, as does the exact location of the defect within the joint. all of these differences impact the outcome of the operation, and therefore the timeline for recovery. due to these unknowns, doctors are reluctant to provide microfracture patients with any specifics.
much like the physicians, i can’t promise that others’ recovery will follow the same timeline as mine; but i’m hopeful that by providing others with this history of my recovery, that it will give them a better idea of what they could expect.
january – march 2013
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 had an MRI
my MRI results confirmed that 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. my doctor told me microfracture was “the one orthopedic problem there isn’t a real solution for,” but that it was my best bet. those words impacted me so drastically, that i wrote a post that outlines the options my doctor gave me, and the frustrations with the ambiguity of each of them:
kelli’s doctor, like mine, recommended microfracture. and after having shared the X-rays, MRI scans, and full details of her discomfort with other Docs to get a second, and a third opinion, she was faced with the same four options that were presented to me years ago:
- amend your lifestyle so that you don’t use your knee for anything high impact.
…is that a serious suggestion?
- microfracture, although there is no guarantee it will work and if you do a google search on the operation you will be scared to death.
…i did the google search, and i am scared to death
- cartilage plugs, this is a new technology that is also unproven and being developed. it’s not provided by most physicians currently but if you wait a few years it could be a great alternative then
…so what you’re saying is, this isn’t a current option?
- knee replacement, but we wouldn’t recommend this on someone so young.
…right, and i am only 30, so this also is NOT an option
may 16 2013
microfracture knee surgery
i scheduled the surgery. i had to do it. i had no other option.
once we rip portions of that cartilage off, we are bone on bone. at which point every move has friction, grinding, catching and discomfort. it means swelling, locking up, pain, immobility, and if not properly addressed a gradual degeneration of all cartilage that remains, osteoarthritis, and an eventual knee replacement.
may 24, 2013
my 30th birthday, (one week post-op)
my parents flew into town to be there for the operation, and to celebrate 30. we did so at a local Manhattan Beach restaurant, along with my boyfriend at the time (now husband) and some other family friends. i couldn’t believe that 30 had gotten the best of me.
“just wait until you turn 30,” everyone said. “that’s when everything starts to go downhill.” i refused to believe them. i was the exception to the rule. i was in better shape than most. i was fit. i was strong. and i took good care of my body. but there was one thing i didn’t account for – my joints. joint problems are a commonality amongst lifetime athletes; and although i had never had any orthopedic issues in my life, i celebrated my thirtieth on crutches, a week after having microfracture surgery on my right knee. ever since i have been trying to replace all of the good exercises that were previously performed on my good knee, with good exercises that could be performed on my bad knee.
june 5 – 8, 2013
work travel, (3 weeks post-op)
the amount of time i spent in bed post surgery was minimal. for some it may be longer, but for myself it was likely only two or three days. 3 weeks out, i wasn’t in pain at all.
recovery from microfracture involves 6 weeks on crutches. 6 very strict, non-weight bearing weeks. if the “cartilage” has started regrowing, (which is the hope), and i were to have started putting stress on the joint, i could have ripped off every portion of progress made, and the whole surgery would have been for nothing. if anything, i was overly strict about staying off of my knee. but i was going stir crazy.
when my work asked if i wanted to take a trip up to Seattle, i was thrilled. i remember at the airport i was too stubborn to get a wheel chair. i wasn’t going to be one of those people. (whatever that means). so i crutched all the way to my gate. and i regretted every minute of it. i took multiple breaks. i arrived all sweaty and uncomfortable. when i checked in to my flight the stewardess offered to have a wheel chair waiting for me upon landing in Seattle, and i didn’t hesitate to accept.
i was still on crutches, but i was thrilled to be doing something…anything.
june 13, 2013
the end of the rope (4 weeks post-op)
i am not one to be a complainer on social media; but on this particular day, i was. which tells me i was REALLY fed up, and at the end of my rope.
one of the biggest challenges in recovering from microfracture, (and any surgery), is the mental challenge. and it should be worth mentioning because it is most definitely a big part of the recovery process.
“today, marking week 4 of 6, the rubber ripped off the bottom of both of my crutches, making it impossible to walk on slippery surfaces. this includes nearly all public places such as the grocery store, or any pharmacy where i need to go to buy new crutches. ugggh. can’t wait to get through this. anyone in the South Bay have a pair of crutches laying around?”
june 20, 2013
removing myself from the volleyball community (5 weeks post-op)
i had moved to Hermosa Beach to play volleyball, as many people do. it is the hub of beach volleyball in the U.S. in june, every person i knew was out playing on the beach, every day. it was all anyone wanted to do. it was all i wanted to do. but i wasn’t able to do so. occasionally i would go out to watch and socialize; but it was too difficult, too tempting, too depressing. i was going to miss the whole season, i had no idea when (and if) i was going to be able to play again, and i didn’t want to have to see volleyball every day. so i removed myself from the volleyball community, and i moved north to Santa Monica.
the other biggest challenge in recovering from microfracture, (and any surgery), that should be mentioned, is the emotional challenge.
june 27, 2013
walking! (6 weeks post-op)
6 weeks post-op! i had made it. the full six weeks on crutches i had been going to physical therapy. in approaching my 6 week mark i must have asked my physical therapist 847 times, “are you SURE it is ok if i walk now?” i was desperate to get rid of my crutches, but i was overly cautious and scared about compromising my joint.
he confirmed i was good to go, and i happily ditched my walking sticks.
july 25, 2013
i joined the Santa Monica College aquatic center (2.5 months post-op)
my workouts leading up to this moment were very unfulfilling. my physical therapy undoubtedly helped me; but i noticed that my PT was giving me the same workouts as every other person in the gym. for some of those individuals, PT was the most exercise they had ever done in their life. i didn’t even consider what we were doing to be exercise.
i wasn’t able to do anything high impact; so i finally joined the aquatic center to get my swim on. swimming, for those who have not tried it, is hard. but i loved it. and what made it even better, is that it was an outdoor swimming pool. i was able to fulfill my need to raise my heart rate, and be outside.
i was slow to start and i did notice that even swimming caused a bit of discomfort in kicking my leg to full extension, but it was the best form of aerobic activity i had had in a long time.
august 8, 2013
i started to yoga (3 months post-op)
swimming, while very good for me, starting getting old. i needed variation. out of pure boredom with the workout routines i had attempted, i picked up a yoga mat. i wasn’t able to perform every pose, but there were plenty of adaptations that allowed me to make it through the full 75 minutes of bending.
the real truth is, i never thought i would be a big yoga lover. i’ve always been a yoga liker, but in years past i wouldn’t have ever chosen to yoga over a day of beach volleyball, a nice long run, or even a trip to the gym. there aren’t many good things that have come to me as a result of my knee surgery a year and a half ago, but if i had to name one, it would be yoga.
september 12, 2013
HIIT workouts (4 months post-op)
i discovered HIIT workouts, and they changed everything. these workouts allowed me to fire up my muscles, to raise my heart rate, to max out my cardiovascular efforts, and to push myself until i felt like i was going to crumble… ALL WITHOUT compromising my knee.
the best thing about HIIT workouts is that the exercises can be adapted to every person regardless of their fitness level, or the quality of their knees!
early on i would mix in the stationary bike, with planks, with dumbbell curls, with push ups, and more. the beauty of HIIT is that you construct a workout that is best for your body. so as time, and my knee progressed, i was slowly able to incorporate more weight-bearing exercises into my routine.
in the words of Eric Salvador, NASM, NSCA, head instructor at The Fhitting Room in NYC, “A high-intensity workout increases the body’s need for oxygen during the effort and creates an oxygen shortage, causing your body to ask for more oxygen during recovery.”
in the words of vanessa, fitness fanatic, athlete, and head word splurger at thefirst2hours, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), is a training technique that forces you to give all-out, one hundred percent effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise.
you are on a clock, and your results are being recorded to compare with your next attempt at the work out, so excuses get you nowhere. you can’t argue the numbers, so either you work hard, and increase your reps in the given time frame, or you slack off, and waste your time.
november 26, 2013
i went on a run (6.5 months post-op)
i officially hit my 6 month post surgery mark. according to the ambiguous microfracture recovery guidelines provided by every doctor in the universe, i was able to start doing more high-impact activity after 6 months. “try it out, see how it feels, and decide how to proceed from there,” was what i was told.
i just so happened to be in Vail, Colorado with my Joefish, and together we went on a “run.” i lasted approximately 13.24 minutes due to weak muscles, my unstable knee, and high elevation. i may have even stopped once for a break in that time; but it still felt good. mentally and emotionally, it was an indescribable boost and feat. i had shed a lot of tears over the last 6 months, but this was the first time in a long time that they had been happy tears.
december 8, 2013
hiking in Malibu Creek State Park (7 months post-op)
i slowly started integrated more jogs into my life – shorter distance jogs. running was previously one of my biggest fitness passions outside of volleyball. i learned after completing my first full marathon a few years before that i loved learning about the “limits” of my body, and then pushing myself far past them. the runner’s high became my drug, but post surgery, i knew that my body wasn’t ever going to allow me to run like that again.
i was also scared. i struggled with the mental battle of injury, and was unsure if my activities were compromising my future. long term, giving up my active lifestyle was not an option. so much so that i even looked into prosthetic alternatives. should i have had to choose between my real leg and a life without activity, or a fake leg pursuing my biggest passions, the decision to go with a prosthetic would have been an easy one.
in the meantime, to replace my runs, and get my therapy, i started spending A LOT of time in the mountains. the uphill and downhill of hiking was tough on the joint; so i would seek out hikes that didn’t have a huge change in elevation.
for the first time in a long time, i wast starting to feel like myself again.
december 18, 2013
workout stations in Santa Monica Park (7.5 months post-op)
i began putting together workouts with exercises i hadn’t performed in 7.5 months. in the early, early mornings i would head to Santa Monica Park and get my sweat on as the sun was rising. i loved being out there in thefirst2hours and being able to integrate more impact into my fitness routines.
one such park (which i still on workouts on file because i am the master of spreadsheets), i remember extremely well. i was thrilled to have completed it. i took my time getting through it, but i completed it. and to celebrate, the sky provided me with a remarkable array of colors.
5 minute jog – 10 burpees
3 minute jog – 10 burpees, 1 minute plank
1 minute run – 20 squats, 20 push ups
3 minute jog – 10 burpees, 1 minute plank
1 minute run – 20 squats, 20 push ups
10 minute jog
january 19, 2014
10 mile Big Santa Anita Canyon Loop hike (8.5 months post-op)
a couple of girlfriends joined me on a fairly flat 10 mile hike in the San Gabriels. and the result of that hike was not only a great workout with friends, but also an invite to come out and play volleyball.
by this time, 8.5 months post-op, everyone in the volleyball community knew i had had a surgery. i had somewhat removed myself, and i no longer received calls or texts about playing.
i wanted to test out the knee on the court, but i knew it wouldn’t be pretty. one day i went out to the courts in Santa Monica and asked some strangers if i could play. it wasn’t a high level of volleyball which made me feel more comfortable. i knew i wasn’t going to have to push myself hard. i simply wanted to see how my knee felt. it was a healthy exercise. it showed me that i needed to be careful, but i didn’t have to live with so much fear. it allowed me to get one step further along the mental battle.
when tori and leinani offered to set up some games for us to play under the lights, and work my way back into it, i was giddy with excitement.
january 24, 2014
volleyball under the lights (9 months post-op)
i made my big beach volleyball debut amongst friends who i knew i would have fun with, and who wouldn’t be frustrated if i wasn’t performing at my best. i definitely noticed that certain movements were harder than others. thankfully, my main jumping leg is my left leg, and my knee that was operated on, was my right knee. otherwise i still am not sure if i would have ever been able to play again (or i would have had to play goofy-footed). i wasn’t able to push off of my right leg as well. and extending my leg fully caused the most pain of all.
all in all. i was playing volleyball! i wasn’t playing at the level where i had left off, but i was doing better than i had anticipated. more happy tears.
january – march, 2014
working my way back into volleyball
as the knee allowed, i slowly began playing more and more. i tried to not be tempted to make it a daily occurrence, but there was nothing that made me happier. every time i returned home from playing, i was elated. my knee never felt 100%, but it felt good enough to play. eventually that casual playing, became competitive practice. and eventually that competitive practice became competitive tournaments.
march 15, 2014
CBVA open in Santa Monica, California (11 months post-op)
by march i was ready to put myself to the test and i signed up for my first tournament in a year. it went extremely well. post tournament i noticed a pain in my GOOD knee. to avoid putting pressure on my microfracture leg, i shifted my weight elsewhere. which i believe was both a good and a bad thing. i still tend to do this today. usually i don’t even realize i am doing it until the next day when i feel sore. i frequently worry that i may be damaging it as well.
we had a 5th place finish in one the top level tournaments on the SoCal beaches. i was obsessed with making a come back. so i continued playing.
may 22, 2014
NVL Pro Tournament in Dallas, Texas (one year post-op)
i was doing well enough that i signed up to compete in a professional tournament on the National Volleyball League tour. one year post-op, and i was back playing at the pro level. one would think that this would be enough, but it was just a tease. i didn’t want to simply BE at the pro tournaments, i wanted to be winning them. i still had a long way to go to be back at my former level.
july 9, 2014
attempting to waterski (13.5 months post-op)
this morning i had an invite to head out to do some waterskiing in the early morning so that we would catch all the glass. i was unsure as to how my knee would react. maybe i wouldn’t even notice it. maybe it would be too painful to do. i didn’t know until i tried.
i’ll never forget the moment i told the boat to “hit it.” that boat took off and for the first time in my life, i wasn’t able to get up on the skis. i have been waterskiing for as long as i can remember, and not being able to get up, hadn’t even been a possibility in my mind. immediately i broke down in tears.
after two more attempts, i did get up. and i was able to ski for a decent amount of time. when i was done, i was completely exhausted. emotionally exhausted.
the crazy thing about this operation and this recovery, is that some exercises that you may not even second guess, hurt you more than others. one would think that because i was able to play in professional level volleyball tournaments, that i wouldn’t have had a problem getting up on skis in the calmest water in the world. but that wasn’t the case.
at this point i started to realize that it wasn’t simply about the level of impact in activities, it was about the location of the impact in my joint. the angles at which the impact occurred determined the degree of pain i felt.
july 19, 2014
Wasatch Beach in Salt Lake City, Utah (14 months post-op)
i recall one day in particular when i was out training leading up to this tournament. i could barely put any pressure on my knee. during our training session i offered to be a permanent setter for the drill so that i wouldn’t have to move; but even that hurt to much. my knee wasn’t having it and i had to remove myself from training completely.
that day, i thought that i had officially reached the end of my volleyball career. i distinctly recall saying my internal good-byes to the sport and telling my teammates who i was training with, that i didn’t think i had any more volleyball days in me.
i gave my knee two weeks rest, and then i went out to the sand to try again. somehow, my knee was feeling better. i couldn’t believe it was true. and i was beyond grateful.
i wish i could report to her, and to others, that post microfracture all days became good days, but that isn’t the truth. as i explained to her, there are a greater percentage of good days, and the bad days aren’t as debilitating as they once were, but they exist. i am absolutely in a better physical place 2 years 4 months and 14 days after my microfracture, than i was before. but even at one year out, i was looking into prosthetic alternatives that would enable me to stay active. thankfully i kept my head high because the better days did come!
august 29, 2014
Motherlode Classic in Aspen, Colorado (15.5 months post-op)
if there was one thing i had learned throughout the summer of 2014, it was that nothing was certain. i had tried to figure out a pattern to my knee. what was i doing when it was the worst? what was i doing when it was the best? months of thought, and tracking, was put into trying to solve this puzzle. ultimately i came up with nothing. perhaps some have different experiences, but the only thing i knew for certain was that i was healthier and happier overall when i was playing ball. so i continued to play.
september 19, 2014
NVL Pro Tournament in Hermosa Beach, California (16.5 months post-op)
the last big season of the year. we played great. we finished in the top 12 of the National Volleyball League tournament. and my knee was barely noticeable.
october – december, 2014
(17 – 19 months post-op)
volleyball season was over so my knee had time to rest. i started to realize though that if i didn’t use my knee much for 2-3 weeks, and then i attempted to do so, the days i came back from the “rest” caused me the most pain of all. this was counterintuitive to every injury i had had before. like most things regarding microfracture, it isn’t about what is proven and planned for, it’s about reading your own body and responding accordingly.
during the winter months i spent more time in the gym, but i tried to stay away from jumping activities. i spent time on snow shoes; which proved to be okay so long as there wasn’t a steep grade. i hadn’t been running much, but i signed up for a christmas 2.5 mile run on december 20th and recall feeling angry because of how much that slow-paced, sub 5K run hurt.
(2 years 6 months post-op)
each and every day i vacillate between being completely confused and frustrated with the unknowns of my knee, and being completely grateful that i am able to perform any level of activity. i am able to do most activities to some degree. but each time i do, i ask myself “is it worth it long term?” “should i be pushing through this chronic knee pain now, if i know i’ll have to get it replaced in the future?”
my husband regularly reminds me that i need to slow down, and hold back. more knee surgeries will likely be in my future, and he (being in the medical field) is more knowledgeable than i about the long term consequences of my volleyball, my running, my jumping workouts, my skiing, and my every day life.
together, my husband and i, have been looking for alternative sports that will fulfill our need to sweat and compete, while keeping us healthy. i have given up indoor and grass volleyball 100%. come winter it makes me sad to not be able to compete in a sport that i love so much. but i have realized that if i am going to continue playing, i need to stay on the sand.
cross country skiing, rowing, and kayaking, have topped our lists as new sports. i simply need to find a sport that i am extremely passionate about, and i will be content. i haven’t spent enough time yet doing any of those activities, to know if they will stick. but i am hopeful. i’ve got to be. because my heart and my head are much younger than my knees, and i’ve got to make this work.
vanessa without healthy knees, isn’t a healthy person. so i will continue taking it one day at a time, and hoping that technology catches up with my aging joints.
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.