Taking it in stride

posted Aug 14, 2012, 5:40 AM by Paul Wagner
Over the past three months, P has been struggling with a bad right knee. He first hurt it while cycling in late April, and felt a twinge behind his kneecap. After that, there was pain, swelling, strange locking up of the knee, and a general sense that all was not right in Kneeland. And it didn't go away.P resting atop the pass.

He gave up cycling for two months and tried to give the knee a period of rest and relaxation.  But as backpacking season was coming and going, and the knee wasn't getting any better, he decided to consult his physician.
X-rays and a consultation later, and the news came back that he had arthritis in the knee.  Not bad arthritis, but enough to make an issue of things.  This was not great news.  And the next step was to consult an orthopedist, which he did in mid-July.  A long consultation confirmed that his ACL and MCL were fine, but that there might be something else wrong in there.  And the arthritis didn't look that serious.  Time for an MRI.
In the meantime, he was instructed to let pain and discomfort be his guide.  He could cycle, hike or leap tall buidling with a single bound, as long as it didn't seem to make his knee worse.
And so we took a backpacking trip.  There he is at left, between Garnet and Thousand Island Lake, at 10,000 feet.  Note that his knee is there, too.
But we also took precautions. For the first time, P carried (and later used) hiking poles.   We took a generous supply of Advil, and chose a route that would allow us to bail out early if things got gruesome.  We packed light, as we usually do, and we agreed to take things easy. And we took a small knee brace, too.
How did it go? 
And showing off his hiking poles and knee brace.
The first day up the steep ( we took it slow and sure) Rush Creek trail was fine. P felt great, the knee didn't hurt more than usual, and all systems were a cautious go.  The second day .was even better.  By the time we got to camp that afternoon, P was feeling the best he'd felt in a couple of months.  He went fishing at Altha Lake and had a lovely time.
But the next morning, within a half-mile of leaving camp, he noticed a new and distinctive pain in the knee.  He immediately took some Advil, pulled out the poles, and spend most of the day worrying.  He was worrying that our route this day was taking us farther from the trailhead, and this was the one day that offered a chance to leave early.  He stuck it out, the knee didn't get worse, and by the end of the third day he was hopeful that the worse was over. 
Day four was a series of climbs and descents, including a half-mile bushwhack along the San Joaquin River, and by this time he was using the poles and taking an Advil every six hours, and using the knee brace--including dipping it in icy where he could to cool the knee while he hiked.  But it worked.  The knee held up fine, and actually felt better than the day before.
More rock, more downhill.
In the photo at left, you can see him in full preventive regalia, posing on the Rush Creek Trail.
The last day was a descent of 2500 feet steeply down the Clark Lake/Rush Creek trail.  This trail is no fun, but with his assortment of protections and medications, P's knee held up to the very end.  In fact, by the end of the trail it felt no worse than his other knee...which was also feeling the long descent.  That's the trail at right (M is that tiny dot halfway up the trail), and it simply goes straight down about 600 feet per mile for miles.
But we did it.  Mission Accomplished.
And the even better news?  A few days after returning, his orthopedist gave him a cortisone injection in the knee...and not only is the pain gone, but the swelling is greatly reduced. We're hoping that will give the knee a chance to do a little recovery on its own, and we'll be back on the trail in no time.
Wouldn't THAT be nice?