Faking a surgery
At the end of April I tore my Meniscus. I've never experienced a sports injury like this before. As an amateur strongman, here is my experience.
A few months ago on a Tuesday morning, at the end of April, I was at the gym. For weightlifting/strongman, I do a 4 day upper/lower split. I had just signed up for a contest set to happen June 12th, which meant my coach and I were switching from general programming to specific exercises in preparation for contest day.
On this particular Tuesday my coach prescribed banded push presses with an axle bar. I had been doing axle push presses with bands for several weeks at this point. However, today I noticed my knee was feeling a bit weird. To describe the feeling is a little hard for me. The closest I can come up with, is my knee felt exhausted as if I had done several sets of high rep squats, and sort of stiff. Since the day before was leg day, I just assumed that maybe things weren't fully recovered yet.
By the time I completed all of my sets with the push press, the pressure in my knee had increased. By the end of my workout I noticed my knee felt really weird when I tried to bend it. When I was done with my workout, I got in my car and drove home.
When I got home I realized I messed up somewhere. I couldn't hold my leg straight at full extension. If I tried my knee would feel like it wanted to cave inward. To correct that, I walked with my knee slightly bent. Only issue with that is my knee would buckle every few steps.
I decided I would give things a few days before making rash decisions. Wednesday was a rest day, and Thursday would be another lower body day. I thought to myself that maybe my leg would feel better by then. Nope! It didn't get better. Not only did I have the previously mentioned problems, buy now there was pain associated with my knee. I had limited range of motion, and my leg would occasionally lock-up.
I talked to two people about the situation. My wife, and my coach. My wife suggested I get my knee looked at, and my coach referred me to a physical therapist that he trusted. At this point in time I was really unsure as to what was the best course of action with my knee. I was filled with feelings of uncertainty and confusion.
Up to this point in my life I have had various injuries, but I had always managed to avoid seeing a doctor or specialist about them. Usually they were muscle strains that would heal within a matter of days. The worst strain I ever experienced healed in two weeks but there was steady progress from day to day with it feeling better. I was that whatever was going on wasn't all that serious.
Since the injury wasn't getting better I went to the physical therapist recommended by my coach. The Physical Therapist put my knee through a variety of tests. Overall my knee passed the tests given. She didn't see anything wrong with my ACL or MCL. However, she did have concerns about the posterior cruciate ligament chain. The physical therapist suggested to give the knee another week and come back and see her.
A week went by and nothing changed. The pain was still there along with all of the other symptoms. The physical therapist put my knee through some more tests and this time the concern grew. There was some weakness in my right leg, and enough unnatural movement to warrant some serious concern. So then I was recommended to see an orthopedic doctor.
The physical therapist made the recommendation to see the orthopedic doctor on a Friday, and the orthopedic office had my appointment set for the following Monday. That Monday my knee, once again, was put through a series of tests. This time, the doctor slipped his finger into my knee joint and pressed on my meniscus. Oh man! When he did that he definitely got a reaction out of me! It did not feel good at all.
The doctor expressed some concerns and recommended I get an x-ray to make sure there was no bone damage. He gave me a range of options to include getting an MRI. However, the MRI would have to be approved by insurance in advance.
At this point there was a number of things running through my mind. Like the dweeb I am I was freaking out about my knee since Friday I was told I should see a specialist. So I did what every millenial does, I googled my symptoms.
This time though I was fortunate that google didn't suggest I was dying. However, what I did find didn't make me feel a lot better (priorities maybe a bit messed up). A lot of my research indicated a meniscus tear. The part that made me cringe was the fact that meniscus injuries don't heal with time. Or at least most don't. In almost all cases surgery is required.
So with that information running through my mind, I figured we were headed for surgery. It was just a matter of time. I asked a few questions about the subject and the doctor confirmed if the injury is what he thinks it is, then yes I will need to get surgery or deal with the repeated flare up of the meniscus. I was further informed that every meniscus injury is different so it is hard to say how much the injury could affect me long term.
I decided to go ahead with getting the MRI pre-approved through insurance and informed the doctor so. After that we went over my x-ray results, which were all good, and I went home.
After this my mind started asking the question of what to do next. Throughout all of this I was still training in preparation for the strongman competition in June. The problem was the training was taking a serious toll on my knee.
After every workout, and especially on leg day, my knee would be in excruciation pain. It would be almost impossible to drive. I was having a hard time lifting my foot back and forth from the gas to the brake pedal and back.
Every time I went to pick up my foot a few things would happen. Sometimes it would be one thing, sometimes it would be a combination of things. My leg would lock-up, pain would shoot up my leg, or the knee wouldn't come back far enough to get out of the way of the pedal as I transitioned. This would cause me to hit the side of the pedal and I would have to really focus on bringing the foot back a little more to get into a position where I could push the pedal down with my foot.
When I got home I would have to mentally prepare myself to get out of the car. At times I had to pick up my leg by hand and move it so I could get out of the car. After that, I couldn't immediately stand up. I had to slowly put weight on the leg to try and avoid as much pain as possible.
I talked to my coach about the situation. His response was if it was him he would probably compete (I know for sure he has no meniscus in one knee, but I think they are gone in both knees). However, he also said me not competing wouldn't be a big deal either. I am not a professional, and this could be a great learning experience about my body.
Combine this advice, and the pain in my leg, with the fact I wasn't able to perform the way I wanted to in the gym, I made a decision. I decided I would not compete at the competition in June. I made the announcement on Facebook and receive a lot of support from family and friends. My wife was super grateful. I found out after she wanted me to not compete, however she held back her opinions a little bit so as to not sway my decision. She didn't want to influence me into a decision I might regret (she knows how much I love competing). She felt it was better for me to come to my own decision (and she is right).
When I received my MRI results I was informed I had two tears. I had a horizontal tear and a radial tear in my meniscus. The doctor informed me that as far as meniscus injuries went, I did a fairly good job at jacking it up. So what was the recommendation? As predicted, it was surgery. The type of tear I had apparently put me at a high risk, no guarantee but chances, of further messing up my meniscus, and creating early onset arthritis. So I agreed to get the surgery done.
Once that decision was made my workouts changed. Instead of doing heavy weights, I started doing light weights with high reps with an idea of pre-habing the knee.
It was at this point I started feeling like a fraud. Over time my knee started to feel better. Not sure if I was just getting use to the pain, the result of what was happening in the gym, or a combination of the two. There were still days where the knee would flare up worse than others, the knee still hurt around the clock, but I felt like I could do more. There were a couple of events that added to my feelings of maybe I was faking my own injury.
On my youngest son's second birthday we took him to Frontier Trampoline Park. Guess who was able to jump sky high on the trampoline. The only time my knee was really bothered by the situation is when I would try to run across the trampolines, or if I bent my knee to far while I was in the air. I had a blast with my son's. I don't think anyone would have thought I had an injury that day.
The gym I go to holds an event once a month called Friday Night Strongman. A few days before the surgery they were doing Yoke carries. My knee was feeling relatively well that day. I did a couple of runs and the weight kept going up each run. My "craving" for competition got itched and I don't think I would have stopped if it wasn't for my coach telling me to stop and threatening to tattle to my wife.
But just doing that and having to stop, again, created those feelings of doubt, inadequacy, and fraud. My knee felt ok, maybe I could work up to 700 lbs on the yoke. I was having the surgery in a few days what more could I do? Maybe things really weren't that bad. Maybe I would have been fine the whole time, why not try tonight and find out?
Further, it wasn't like I had a serious limp. Sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn't. I was still capable of helping lift couches, mattresses, and move household items. I don't think I showed in most situations that I might be injured.
My peak feelings of fakeness occurred the night before the competition I had intended to participate in before the injury. My in-laws were in town and we went to Sanford's to eat. While there we ran into a guy who competed in the same contest just last summer. I had also competed in that contest.
Unfortunately it was during that 2020 summer contest that I watched this man tear his bicep. Yet here he was a year later back to competing. He asked me if I was competing again this year and I told him I had dropped out due to my meniscus. His advice was tight knee wraps to keep the knee stable.
When he stated that, I also remembered how the year before he still wanted to continue with the competition despite tearing his bicep. Here I was dropping out of a competition for an injury that is basically the chicken pox of sports injuries. Just about every athlete gets a meniscus injury. It's basically a tradition.
The next morning I woke up wondering if I had made the right decision. Trapped in my own head, I wondered if maybe I was being a wimp. Like somehow I was making the situation worse than what it really was. It was so bad that at one point I had my phone in my hand, staring at the screen, about ready to send a message to the competition director to see if I could enter last minute. For a moment I didn't care about my knee, didn't care that I wasn't in proper competition shape, I just wanted to compete.
I didn't compete though. I was able to come back around. Besides, my in-laws had already made plans in place of the competition and it wouldn't have been fair to them.
In hindsight it was good I didn't compete. I can only imagine how my knee would have felt afterwards. Plus, the next day at 2 am, everybody was up and on the way to the airport to spend a few days in New Braunfels, TX to visit the Schlitterbahn waterpark.
As it is, the amount of walking we did in Texas put a lot of strain on my knee. Going up steps became brutal. Riding the water rides would send jolts of pain on my leg. I still had fun anyways. I didn't let the injury slow me down. I sucked it up and worked through it. I wasn't about to miss the opportunity I had with my family.
In the end though the injury wasn't fake. I got the surgery done on July 12th. The doctor did indeed cut out part of my meniscus. I am now waiting for my full return to the job. Hopefully soon I will be cleared to start doing lower body exercises (right now it's upper body only).
Also, I have to give a huge amount of credit to people who experience chronic pain. Just a few months of it with my knee drove me crazy, and that was with an end in sight. To be honest I am not sure if my situation is totally comparable to someone who has a chronic pain condition.
But I can only imagine what it is like to know you will be feeling pain every day with really no end in sight. The only thing you may get is some "relief" from a medical procedure that makes the situation just a wee bit more tolerable.
Hopefully I never have to experience something like this again. I likely will not get that lucky, but a person can hope. Now that this experience is over, I am ready to start competing again. I doubt I am the only amateur athlete who has had these thoughts or feelings. I know also that everyone deals with injuries differently. But hopefully the story is relatable and gives comfort in whatever situation you have had, currently having, or may have in the future.
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