There are ways to heal the knees. In 2007, my keys were weight training, prolotherapy, and a chiropractic maneuver known as traction.
Originally published 2007. For the latest version, see Healing the Knees (2018).
One night, I had something like 8 beers while playing ping pong in a friend’s basement. I remember feeling a twinge at one point, when I lunged to my left. But I didn’t think about it much. I just keep playing.
About 45 minutes later, as the alcohol began to wear off, I noticed a pain in my knee. I stopped playing, went home, and found that the pain was worse the next day. If I tried to run, it was extremely painful.
During that lunge, I had created a small tear in the medial collateral ligament. (One of the ligaments on the side of the knee that keeps it in place.) As it turned out, that tear healed in a few months. But because I kept playing, the knee joint was moving around more than it should have, so I wound up tearing the meniscus (the spongy cushion between the knee joints).
That, too, might not have been so bad, but the knee joint was moving around so much that the torn piece became a flap that folded over, inserting itself between the knee and the remaining portion of the meniscus.
So I now had two layers of meniscus where only one should be. That situation produced a lot of pressure, of course. And that pressure became pain as soon as as I put weight on the knee.
What I Did About It
I didn’t really know about what was going on inside the knee until I let the medicos talk me into arthroscopic surgery. That’s when they found the flap, and “shaved it”, clipping out that part of the meniscus to “solve” the problem. It was about a nickel’s worth, in the shape of half a quarter. And I miss it dreadfully.
The result, of course, wasn’t all that good. The constant, low-level pain I was feeling before was no longer there. But if I tried to run or even walk very much, the knee hurt a lot. I stopped playing volleyball. Stopped playing soccer. Stopped running. I tried different activiites, but most everything hurt. About the only things left were kayaking and bird watching — and I didn’t live close to the water.
So naturally, my weight shot up. And to this day, I have running dreams. I love those dreams. I start running and realize: oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t weigh that much any more, so nothing hurts. I don’t really feel the ground. They’re my version of the flying dreams I used to have as a kid. I bound down the lane with the spring in my legs I used to have, easily loping along. I really miss running, and I love those dreams.
After a while, I realized that those dreams were telling me something. So I started a combination of walking and running that I wrote about in 8 and 2 Makes a Thinner You. Eventually, that led to a book on trail running that I’ll get out the door one of these days.
Doing that solved the psychological problem. I was out on the trails again. But to call it “running” is being somewhat charitable. At it’s best, it’s not half bad. But it’s still a far cry from the kind of running I used to be capable of — and I still have to work through a fair amount of pain.
So at this point, I’m doing the best I can to get some kind of steady cardiovascular exercise to keep the weight down and stay happy. (I love the endorphins. They make me feel good.) But I have to balance that with the pain I feel on the trail, and the try to minimize the long term damage of joint-on-joint friction and the possibility of major arthritis problems in the future.
It’s not a great place to be, but I’m living with it. Still, I know how much healthier I would be if my ability to move weren’t so limited.
Years later, I saw a chiropractor, and found that they perform a simple maneuver that would have solved most of my problems: traction. That and prolotherapy would probably have been sufficient to solve the problem.
Traction is simply pulling on things to create separation in the joint. In this case, pulling on the ankle created a bit of space in the knee, which generally made me feel better as things stopped rubbing on each other, if only for a while.
In retrospect, it all made sense. How had that flap of cartilage managed to get into the wrong position in the first place? It was probably that lunge, or one of the lunges that came afterwards. Stretching into the lunge undoubtedly created a small amount space. The effect would have aggravated by the small ligament tear, which meant the top and bottom of the knee weren’t held together as closely as usual. The small amount of space and the sideways moved then cartilage flap. So simply creating a space with traction while jiggling the knee could easily have allowed the flap to slide back into place.
After that, the best possible choice would have been prolotherapy — a combination of sugar water and B-12 that stimulates collagen growth. It’s good for tears to the ligaments, tendons, and even the meniscus.
Now that part of the meniscus is actually gone, I have a problem. I need it to grow back. But cartilage has no capillaries to feed it blood. That makes things difficult. Like a sponge, you only pump fluids through it by squeezing and releasing. That means exercise. But of course exercise is painful. So you have to do just the right kind of exercise, in just the right amounts. And you need to everything else you can to stimulate growth.
I once read that human growth hormone is the only thing that causes cartilage to grow. I don’t believe in generalized injections, though, unless you want your feet to grow from size 10-1/2 to size 13 like Barry Bonds. (And he was a fully grown adult at the time!) There is the very real danger that if you inject too much over too long a period of time, the body stops making its own and never restarts.
But if general growth hormone injections aren’t a good idea, there are still two good ways to promote the release of growth hormone to stimulate healing and tissue growth:
Prolotherapy stimulates growth of the damaged cells. Growth and cellular repair are stimulated by small amounts of salt and/or sugar. In short, prolotherapy creates the proper conditions for cartilage repair. There is also an option to add platelets derived from your own blood (platelet-rich-plasma, or PRP) to expedite healing. And if really needed, there is an option to derive stem cells from a teaspoonful of your own abdominal fat. (That option is way more expensive, and a bit more risky. But it can also be many times more effective.)
- Serious weight training
I mean, serious weight training. If you can do more than 5 reps with a given weight, you’re not using enough weight. (But if you can’t do 3 reps, you’re using too much weight.) That kind of strenuous resistance training promotes growth hormone release.
- Pulsing Yoga
A way of doing Yoga that greatly increases flexibility, and that promotes blood flow to the joints, by adding a tiny “pulsing” movement to the poses.
- Physical Therapy. Taking some physical therapy sessions didn’t actually heal the inside of the knee, but the exercises they gave did a good job of strengthening the surrounding muscles. As a result, the knee “tracked” better, and operated with less discomfort when going up or down stairs, walking, or doing most anything else. The exercises were mainly pulling against an elastic cord with a straight leg, doing partial dips on a platform or stairwell, and balancing on one leg first with eyes open, then with eyes closed. But as it turned out, I later found a much quicker technique to achieve the same goal. (That’s next.)
- Quiver Healing. I learned about this technique during a series of Raja Yoga classes at my local Ananda center. It’s a technique Yogananda taught that must be considered one of the great contributions to humanity, in my book. He advised doing it with direct sunlight on the skin, which makes it somewhat more beneficial. But it also produces a noticeable effect without that — and it’s simple enough that you can do it several times a day. To do it, you tense every muscle you have around the knees. Tense them until your knees are shaking, or quivering. Then release it. Boom! You’re done. You have just done an isometric contraction that strengthens all of the supporting muscles that surround the knee, all at one time. (When I began doing it, I noticed a difference within day! It may or may not help to promote healing inside the knee, but if all it does is to keep the supporting muscles stronger and make it easier to engage in other activities, it’s worth doing!)
What I’ve Been Doing
Right now, I’m basically doing most all of the above. Chiropractic traction still helps to alleviate the pain of joint on joint rubbing, because it provides a little separation, if only for a while. I’m doing regular weight training, although I’m not as rabid about it as I once was. And I’m doing the Pulsing Yoga.
I was about to start another round of prolotherapy to see if I can regrow some of the meniscus that was removed, but finances got in the way. But when I’m ready, I’m lucky enough to have found out that the folks at Root Cause Medical Clinics perform that procedure, and they’re just up the road! (Of course, I’m not just healing a tear. I’m trying to regrow a fair amount of missing cartilage. Prolotherapy may not work for that. If I get any results at all, it will probably take years. All I can do is hope. And wish that I had never had cartilage removed in the first place.)
What You Should Do
As always, examine the alternatives carefully. Find out what really makes sense for you. List all of the possible treatments and try the easiest, least expensive, and least invasive options first. Do everything you can to promote natural healing. Consider Prolotherapy as a possible “assist” for that process. By all means, experiment with “pulsing Yoga”, and see if you can find a Bikram Yoga center or a very warm room to a do it in.
Other articles on this site
- Pulsing Yoga – A Radically Effective Exercise
- Why You Want Prolotherapy
- PRP Proplotherapy vs. Arthroscopy
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