Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Working Stiff

Into my third week of physical therapy now, I'm becoming more and more limber and flexible every single day, but still relatively slowly. I'm working on bending and straightening my leg, two very important movements that we all take for granted, but that currently cause me much pain and fatigue in trying to accomplish.

As a matter of pragmatics, I've been focusing on the bending part, doing wall slides, heel slides, and squats in order to stretch both the locked-up knee and the crazy-tight quads. My progress helps me to do simple things like walk down stairs reciprocally, switch pedals from gas to brake to gas in the car, and to kick my cat. As it turns out, the bending is the lesser important goal. It's the straightening that is more critical. With the knee acting like a hinge, not being able to straighten the leg is tantamount to having a small stone stuck in the hinge, preventing it from coming together. Scar tissue acts like the stone in the hinge, and after time, it becomes so hard and calcified that it can only be removed by surgical intervention. The mention of the word "surgery" was enough to get me focusing on straightening the leg more aggressively. Additionally, the quads cannot get a true firing unless the leg is straight, impeding the efficiency of my progress.

The exercise is simple: put a couple of pillows under my heel and let gravity do its thing. I add a 5 pound weight just below the knee to help it along. If that gets old, and it gets painfully old after only a few minutes, I transition onto my growing belly (not enough aerobic exercise and too much Thanksgiving leftovers) and let my leg hand off the bed. Moving the weight to the ankle gets the most painful (and effective) stretch. I try to sustain this for 10 to 15 minutes, but my wife usually makes me stop sooner so the kids don't have to hear so much swearing.

For all my hard work, I finally hit zero degrees yesterday for the first time. That's a straight leg making up what mathematicians call a "straight angle" of 180 degrees. Although it initially required the assistance of electro-shock therapy, (or "e-stim" as the people administering the electrocution who don't actually feel the shock call it), I was able to flex to zero on my own after the juice subsided. The Aloe Vera on the electrical burns seemed like such a nice way to celebrate my accomplishment. Of course, my good leg hyperextends a few degrees, so I still have progress to make past zero. Besides, after a full day of teaching on my feet, the blood pools in my knee, making it swollen and stiff. Additionally, it also stiffens up each night, as I sleep with it slightly bent and very still (spooning pose). This means I lose most of any progress I make the day before. Sounds great, huh?

As for the leg bending, I went from 90 degrees yesterday at the beginning of the 1-hour sesssion to 109.99 degrees at the end. Because I was torturing myself so mercilessly on the squat machine and managing not to cuss up a storm, the therapist rounded the final number to 110 degrees. That means I made a 20 degree gain in the bendy direction and 8 degrees in the straight direction (I came in at 8 degrees) for a total of 28 degrees of total gain!! I promised I wouldn't cuss in front of my kids anymore, so the therapist fudged and gave me a nice, round 30 degree gain.

What does that mean? That means this morning I woke up having lost 30 degrees of flexibility--Da*$%@ It!!!! Sorry kids, I didn't mean to wake you.

The therapist says that it's normal to lose what I've gained, but not desirable. What is lost is more easily reagained the next time, but the pain in getting there isn't any less. So either I give up sleep, train myself to do heel slides while sleeping, or deal with daily setbacks.

Right now, running again seems so far off in the future if at all. At least I have food to comfort me.

That reminds me . . . It's time to eat. Looks like tonight is "Turkey Étouffée."


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh...the memories of physical therapy. I'm glad to hear you are making some progress. Is it winter holiday break yet?

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, progress is being made and some day in the not to distant future this will all just be a bad memory.