Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The path to being pain-free (part 1)

Just one month ago I had a hip arthroscopy (a minimally invasive hip surgery) and I thought it would be good to write about the whole ordeal. Although I had been avoiding it for two years, I finally came to the realization that surgery was the answer for handling my chronic pain.

Being indoctrinated in the “natural” approaches to wellness, I had always considered surgery to be a last resort. But by reading the stories of others on the internet, I opened up to the idea. Their stories helped me to get an idea of what the process would be like and how it could potentially help me.

The documentation of my experience is mostly for me like a diary entry, but by being on a public blog, it can serve to shed light on the process and basically just share with others who may have similar problems and may still in the decision-making phase of what to do.

My pain started two years ago while I was increasing my athletic activities. At the time, I was doing CrossFit, was training for a marathon, and had just gotten into adventure racing. I was also taking some kick boxing classes at a boxing gym. When they offered a new course in Capoeira (an Afro-Brazlian art form combining martial arts and dance), I jumped at the chance. It was so beautiful to watch I just had to try it.

One day in my Capoeira class, my knee just completely gave out on me while kicking. It was the strangest thing. One minute I'm kicking and the next minute I can't even put weight on the leg. There was no snapping or anything out of the ordinary. It just turned to rubber. At the time my only thought was I didn't feel the instructor warmed us up enough, or at least like we normally did.

After that day, nothing was the same for me. I started having trouble running due to a new pain in my right ankle; I couldn't lift the weight I was previously lifting in my CrossFit classes due to increasing hip and back pain; and I wasn't able to jump like I used to due to this new unstable feeling with my right knee. At the time, I had no idea that all these pains were related. I knew something was wrong, but basically I tried to ignore it, thinking it would all just go away.

It didn’t.

Reluctantly I had to start decreasing my activity level. I kept on my CrossFit classes for awhile, going less often, but eventually the weights became too painful and I stopped altogether. I wasn't ready to give up running though. It was too much a part of me. And as long as I didn't go too far or too often it seemed ok. At first I could run 10 miles without hurting, but over time the pain started kicking in at shorter distances. Next, I could only go 8 miles then 5, then 3, 2, then hurting even after only 1 mile. I'd try again every month or so just to see if taking a break had helped. But no, it hurt every time I ran.

During this time I also sought medical attention from various types of doctors. Being more of a natural-approach type of person—along with having a general disgust at the medical profession for mostly treating with drugs instead of finding the root of the problem—I went to chiropractors, physical therapists, an acupuncturist, a medical doctor who treated with prolotherapy, and a sports therapist who specialized in Active Release Technique (ART). I even got trained in self-treatment of trigger point therapy, which has a similar objective of ART—releasing muscle tension.

ART turned out to be the most helpful because at the time I saw the doc, all the muscles around the hip, groin, buttocks and thigh were extremely tight and in constant pain. The procedure is quite painful because the practitioner has to dig into the muscles at a very deep level, but it does get the muscle to release the tightness. I used to call it my torture treatment. Although this gave me temporary relief by relaxing the muscles there was still continuing pain that I just couldn't get rid of. The pain I had felt like it was just too deep for anything to get to.

All I could do was cut back on my activities. So over the past two years I went from a training maniac to couch potato. Even my favorite sport of snowboarding—which didn’t engage the pain as much as other activities—suffered because my legs weren’t as strong as before and I tired more easily.

My journey with this hip problem has been quite frustrating. All the doctors I saw had different ideas of what was going on, and none of them up to this point had really helped me. Over time my frustration turned to apathy. I started to think I would never get to do fun stuff again without pain. To top things off, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me “over my hip” (what a loser, I know). But it did act as a catalyst for me to seriously solve this problem, so for that I'm grateful.

Shortly after that I got heavy into research and read up on hip pain. I learned that by not exercising I could create even more trouble. One popular book recommended pool exercises. So I tried that. Even that hurt.

Being almost at my wit’s end I called the closest physical therapy office with the word “sports” in their name and made an appointment. I was determined to get a customized exercise program no matter what the cost. I didn’t care anymore.

When I went in for my appointment the therapist asked me a lot of questions and moved my leg around a lot asking if this or that hurts. He seemed very knowledgeable and competent. No other doctor I had seen had moved my leg around as much as he had. Suddenly I felt a tiny bit of hope that he might actually be able to help me…

So I asked him if he could prepare a customized exercise program for me.

He flatly refused.


He told me straight up that I needed to see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible to find out what was really going on before I did anything. He was dead serious and it kind of shook me up. But I really respected him for that. I felt like this was the first person I had seen that really had a clue. And although I could tell he had his suspicions of what might be wrong with my hip, he refused to guess.

Damn, you gotta admire that!

Stay tuned for part two.

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