Three years ago . . . two days ago.

Has it really been three years?!

Yep. It was three years ago today that I tore my the ACL in my left knee during my exam for 2nd kyup (brown belt).   In my head, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.  But looking at my last update more than a year and half ago, I realize how far I’ve come.

The knee is good.

Very good, in fact.  It stands up to everything that I ask of it.  It’s not perfect, mind you.  I have to wear a neoprene wrap that’s similar to those little patellar braces you see so many people wearing these days.  It’s not ideal, but with the wrap on I hardly feel that bursitis that dogged me for so long, even when I practice karate.

And, boy, have I been practicing karate.  Which brings me to . . .

. . . two days ago

I earned my black belt!

It probably shouldn’t have taken three years to get there after the injury.  But the bursitis really dogged me as did the recurring shoulder pain, which can still be a problem.  I had to abandon Bo kata and stay away from any of the work with bokken that my school does because of my shoulders.   But I stuck with it.  I figured out what worked and what didn’t with my knee (and my shoulders, too).  I kept training on it until I started not just to trust the knee but to feel very natural on it.  And then I trained very hard over the past four months, during which time the knee was often the least of my troubles as I gained a collection of bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes everywhere else on my body.

As the big day approached my main worry was being nervous for the test and forgetting parts of my material (which includes being ready to perform 20 one-steps, 20 self-defense throws with some variations, 20 defenses against knife strikes, at least one of 15 single-person kata, and 2 or more of 6 two-person kata).  The knee was never a concern.  And, thankfully, my brain was merciful and allowed me to focus and even really enjoy the entire exam.

So here’s me, my fellow candidates, and our master instructors on test day.

I’m second from the right, looking tired and suddenly relaxed.

I’ll post some more pictures as they turn up.  

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a happy ending to this ACL story and get ready for some real learning about karate.

Cheers!

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Knee Report – Doctor Visit

Knee showing the pes anserine bursa

The pes anserine bursa under the hamstring tendons and right below harvest scar.

 

Bursitis.

Pes anserine bursitis, to be specific. At least, that’s what the doctor thinks.

The theory is that scar tissure around the harvest area is irritating the pes anserine bursa and causing my pain.  In many ways, this makes sense. It’s a common enough ailment among healthy knees, and any one of the things associated with the surgery could haved caused it in my case. 

For treatment, the doctor suggested a shot of cortisone.  And  when he administered it, he had trouble getting the needle in and then injecting the cortisone in and around the bursa.   A pretty clear sign of some tough scar tissue.

At the very least, the cortisone will reduce the pain in the short run and likely reduce the internal scarring as well. But there are no guarantees. I don’t think we’ll know for sure for another couple of months. More suspense.

For good measure

I also got another cortisone shot in the shoulder. This was my second since my ill-fated attempt to try swimming as a way to stay in shape. The first shot seemed to do wonders, and I had no troubles with my shoulder until I got the flu a couple of weeks ago.  It got into my joints, which all began to ache, and I guess the area around my rotator cuff got irritated enough to stay angry beyond the illness.  Oh, joy. 

Starting over

My next karate class is just a couple of days before I hit a full 4 weeks off from exercise.  If the knee feels better, I’ll go.  But I’m thinking that this time I really need to slow down and kind of start over.   Go through the basic katas and movements only as a way to recondition my legs.  

At my school, blue belts are often called “black and blue belts” for their penchant for finally hitting targets with good power, but less than stellar control.    They also tend to have knee pain, which I believe is because,  at this point in the training, your body is working to keep up with all the stuff it’s being asked to do.  The knees are bearing the brunt of this, and I think they’re adjusting and even reworking themselves.   

This was echoed by another doctor for a follow-up of a study of ACL injuries I’ve participted in.   He said that my body is likely still “learning” the new knee — the one with new scars and fewer tendonous material.  He seemed to think that it will ultimately make the necessary adjustments, but that it could take awhile.  

I hope he’s right.

1-year Anniversary

Somehow it went fast, this year since I tore my ACL.  And yet, it seems like I should be further along in my return to sport.

True, I’ve been going to karate about once or twice a week.  And I’ve been going through kata on off days and lifting weights/doing balance work as well.  But  I haven’t really and truly gotten back to karate. 

Angry knee

I’ve continuted to have pain near the harvest area and also near that scope hole that swelled up a few weeks after surgery.   So, as I passed 10 months post surgery, I decided I needed to do something.   And nothing.

About two and a half weeks ago, I went to a karate class where we did nothing but what we call “blocking kata” the whole session.    Afterwards I was worn out  But it’d been fun.  My advances in front stance left a lot to be desired, but I had some modicum of flow at times, which left me optimistic.    The worst part was realizing how soft the soles of my feet had become.  

Two days later, though, I did leg weights and squats on the balance board, and afterward my knee was angry.  Very angry.   This is third time since late December that I’ve felt this kind of pain, and I’d had enough of it.

Rest

I decided to make an appointment with the doctor and take time off, perhaps a month or so. No karate, no weights, no balance work, no soccer with my son.  

One part of me thinks that I’ve developed a tendonitis around the tendon harvest area and that I just need to rest.  Another part of is worried that it’s a bit more serious, though the graft itself is definitely strong.

I’ve been ‘off’ the knee for two and a half weeks today.   The good news is my knee doesn’t hurt.  But it is tight, and I get the feeling that if I were to start working it out, it might hurt again.  

My appointment with the doctor is this coming Friday.  Crossing fingers that all I need is rest.  But if it is more serious, I’m hoping it’s something that can be fixed.


Little things mean a lot

Earlier this week I had to get up and perform a couple of katas. Neither went especially well, but that I’m doing them at all is still a wonderful thing. Part of it is being out of practice. Another part is not being used to being up in front of people anymore. And, of course, part of it is that my knee still isn’t perfect.

For awhile I’ve noticed that kicks with my left leg (the injured one) feel funny, like they have no “finish” to them. In contrast, my right -leg kicks feel pretty sharp, even though I’m planting and rotating on the injured leg.

I’d figured that, in most cases, the remaining soreness and swelling in the injured leg was keeping me from snapping into full extension and giving me strong, sharp finishes.

But yesterday, as we were practicing kicks with a bag, a lower belt pointed out to me that I was not turning my left foot forward when initiating my kicks with that leg. Because of this, I was bringing my knee up and around a bit instead of straight up, which was throwing me off balance.

And why was I not turning my foot forward properly? Well, because it doesn’t feel great to do it. It doesn’t exactly hurt, but my leg just kind of balks at doing it. I can override the balk, but it takes some thought and slows the kicks down.

In some ways, it’s a small thing. But it has large consequences. And I think I’ll be facing many such niceties as I get deeper into my return.

Scene of the crime

One quick happy note is that I also went through my self defenses with partners for the first time since hurting myself.

Most of them went pretty poorly for a brown belt. Ironically — and most happily — the best of the night was the very technique I injured my knee doing. I’m still going to be nervous about it, I think. But my first visit to the scene of the crime — my first time back on the horse — went well. And I took the opportunity to celebrate and crow about it immediately afterward.

A promising start

My first “official” class back at karate with no limitations was essentially Niage (Naihanchi/Tekki) Night for me.   My highest is Niage 3, of which learned half (the upper half) while still in recovery.  My job was to learn  the footwork and start integrating it with my handwork. The good news is that knee seems to hold up quite well to moving repeatedly in and out of horse stance (thankfully there’s almost no pivoting in these katas).  

The not so good news — and I’ve faced this problem before — is that it’s not so easy to reverse engineer (so to speak) a kata or technique once you’ve learned to do it a certain way.  In this particular case, I had trouble pausing techniques and timing my breath when making lateral transitions, because, for me,  the handwork was just one big series that I could break up as I saw fit.  Once the footwork was added, the different series became clear; I just couldn’t get myself to do them without some of them blending together.  And, of course, we all know how catching yourself screwing up just throws you off more. 

I also found that I’d typically forgotten a couple of techniques in my other advanced kata.  I thought I’d remembered the katas pretty clearly.  So much for my memory.  Most often, what I was missing would come back quickly when pointed out, but in one or two cases I had almost no memory of learning them.   Shows what seven and half months off can do to someone at my level.

Getting back to the knee, the only time I felt any pain was during some of stretches that I hadn’t done for a while.  I laid off when it didn’t feel good.   I had on my soft brace with the donut pad around the patella, which helped immensely with kneeling but also dulled my connection to my knee and left me constant unease about its status.  Yet, when I took the brace off at the end of class, everything looked fine.  I iced the knee and took some ibuprophen, and it’s felt quite good since.   

Crossing fingers and knocking on wood, it was a good start.