Two years ago I mangled my right knee. Classic why-novices-don’t-use-heel-hooks-in-sparring situation. As readers may know, the trouble with heel hooks is that they target the knee and unlike, say, an arm bar, there is little indication of the joint being in danger before it is too late. I had no experience with this technique at the time – my opponent had not learned it in our instructor’s class – so, in ignorance, I rolled straight through the knee; the memory of the loud ‘pop’ turns my stomach to this day. After the initial shock and the adrenaline dump, I felt all right and thought I was able to stand, but I buckled under my own weight and dropped like a stone. I was out of grappling for 9 months.
Recovery was a slow, painful, arduous and demoralising process. I could barely walk for the first month. I started seeing a private physiotherapist about 8 weeks after the injury. While I had been to my GP and A&E the day following the injury and was referred to an NHS physiotherapist, the wait ended up being too long and of course a private physio could work around my schedule rather than the other way around. Essentially, I’d messed up my MCL and meniscus. Months of dedication to physio, starting with getting in and out of my chair on one leg and building up to a weights routine in the gym, paid off and I’ve successfully managed the injury through exercise. Since the injury I’ve become a regular runner, even doing pretty well in the BUPA London 10K last May (48 minutes and change). I do still get occasional weakness and clicking in the knee, which dictates what sort of conditioning I do alongside training from week to week, but overall I’ve been happy to maintain the leg without surgery. What was hardest to heal was my confidence. It took years to feel really safe on the mats again, and only in the last couple months have I been able to confidently pursue take downs.
Having finally ‘gotten over’ my fears and hesitations about moving from standing to the floor, I hadn’t expected to blow out the other knee while doing some light take down practice in no-gi class. This time was pure accident. I had my partner’s leg over wrapped with my right leg and was seeking to take him down by pivoting towards the right while hooking his leg further up. As his weight started to shift he pushed back towards me and the pressure and angle was just not quite right on my supporting leg (the left) and the knee collapsed. My training partner was close to my weight and I believe in this instance it was a case of several factors re. the positioning of my leg as I twisted and as he moved his weight that conspired against me. I managed the walk and bus back home all right, but had to ring my partner to come collect me from my stop as I needed a little support getting back to the house. At this stage, the adrenaline was wearing off and I was becoming increasingly worried that the knee would buckle badly and worsen my injury. I got home and started the RICE protocol and the first dose of a 10-day ibuprofen course, and sort of felt as if I’d only be out of action a few weeks.
Wednesday I was really blue and had a ‘crisis of faith’. The swelling was coming on, the knee was super stiff and I had pain on the inside of the knee and a lot of instability if I tried to get about without a strap. The thought of handling another MCL injury along with the worry of how the hell I was supposed to keep the ‘bad’ knee strong with the ‘good’ knee out of action made me hysterical. I was weepy all day and felt that perhaps I’d be better off getting out of this crazy game that has left me with two bum knees.
By Thursday I had my emotions locked down and had accepted that injury is as much a part of sport as, for instance, drills, warm ups and cool downs and competition. Indeed, as I’d ‘tweeted’ my injury, I heard from half a dozen players also suffering knee troubles at the minute, so I’m in good company. Ultimately, there is a process of recovery that can’t be rushed, and while it is frustrating to be forced into inactivity, it could be a lot worse for me. As an ‘Internet entrepreneur’ I’m in the privileged position of being able to work on my lappie from bed with my leg up and iced; I don’t need to be physically fit for my living, which is a blessing. My legs are pretty strong as I’ve been working conditioning and physio for two years to maintain the right knee, and this should help recovery. I’ve also got a wonderful coach and team that will help me ease back onto the mats, once I’m rested and well along the road to recovery, perhaps in six to eight weeks.
Today, the knee is still swollen but much less stiff. The RICE and ibuprofen treatments are paying dividends and walking up and down the stairs is much less terrifying and I can support my weight on one leg. I’m hoping to start some light physio next week, but am concentrating for the moment on getting the swelling down so that the muscles can fire properly. It gets me down that I’m going to be out of action for some time, but if I take care of myself I can recover well and get back to being a sweaty mess. In the meantime I can work Pilates as the knee allows and try to enjoy my newly freed up time. As coach says, injuries allow us to take stock of where we are and force us to work in new ways while increasing our tenacity and mental toughness.