A good news story about how patience pays off
It was January six years ago that I shattered my left ankle. At the time, I agreed with the surgeon when he advised my sporting days were over and I would have a stiff and arthritic ankle in a few years. I was in my early 60's, and that did not help my prospects of making a full recovery. The trauma to the ankle joint cartilages and two of my tendons were extensive (the tibialis posterior and flexor hallucis longus tendons to be exact).
While acknowledging this disaster which you can read about here, I set my sights on making the most positive I could of a bad situation. I focussed on doing everything in my powers to enhance healing.
The result was remarkable. Within eight weeks of the injury, I realised I could ride a bike without pain. Walking close to impossible, and this remained very restricted for the next four years. So, riding it was; walking it wasn't. I did hardly any walking and barely any running until about a year ago. I listened to my ankle tell me when it was ready to do more.
In 2017, still taking care not to put my left foot down in an uncontrolled manner, I came second in the UCI Masters Mountain Biking Championships.
Then, in 2019, I won!
Here is a slide from a lecture I presented to the US-Based Lydiard Foundation's coaches on the topic of resilience and injury prevention and treatment.
What I'm illustrating here is tissues like tendons and cartilage have prolonged healing times. In the case of my ankle cartilages, I knew, if I had any chance of avoiding arthritis, I had to avoid doing anything at all to irritate these seriously damaged tissues. Here's the thing: each time you stir up an already fragile and stressed tissue, you pretty much have to start all over again from the beginning! Call it the "Ground Hog Healing Day", if you like! If you keep stirring an injury up by pushing things too quickly and too hard, you can guarantee permanent damage, such as loss of cartilage: disabling arthritis.
I still have a lot of pain with my tibialis tendon, which is badly scarred. But it does not stop me from running, and, unlike cartilage-related pain, it is something I can ignore to a degree. The only solution is more surgery to remove some of the scarrings, but there is no urgency, and the miles being run are increasing while the pain is decreasing. So all is good for now.
The ankle now has full mobility, strength and stability restored and I'm finally running freely and happily for as long as two hours over rough and mountainous terrain above our Wellington home. My new goal is to tackle racing up and down the volcanic peak known as Pūtauaki.
I last competed in this mountain race over 40 years ago and came 2nd overall at the time. I feel it is time to give it another crack (sorry, bad pun when thinking about ankles!).
So, here's the takeaway messages from this:
Don't fall over, especially if riding a bike!
Proper first aid is the most important measure to ensure an uncomplicated recovery.
Listen to the experts and don't push the recovery. No pain - no gain is stupid.
If there is pain within a joint that does not ease and largely disappear as you warm into an activity, then back off.
Choose activities that place pressure and stress on the affected structures but do not cause increased pain.
Do not take painkillers or anti-inflammatories to kill any pain. Pain is your friend. Pain tells you when to back off and when to stop.
Do your rehab and mobility exercises consistently, month after month, year after year.
Get deep tissue massage on the affected and non-affected limbs as and when required.
There are nutritional strategies that aid healing. Refer to this webinar.
Take your time!
Oh, and don't forget to come to my webinar on nutrition!