All things considered, I have quite the history with knees. I remember, as a child, my dad being in and out of the doctor’s office with persistent knee problems, initially caused by a ligament injury and subsequently aggravated by various things. I remember him in knee braces, in hospital for arthroscopic surgeries, and sprawled out on the ground in our garden after running to answer the phone. My dad’s knee was just something that went wrong in our lives sometimes.
Fast-forward a few years and I remember the first time I injured myself in such a way that the pain lingered for more than a few minutes. Messing around with a friend in PE (I was about 11, I think), I hyperextended my left leg while weight-bearing. Cue two days of being unable to walk. And fast-forward again to being 18, when, while in a nightclub, I slipped on a spilled drink, resulting in a night in A&E with a dislocated patella. This was a particularly nasty one. Six weeks in a full leg splint, about a month more on crutches, and a further two or three months in fairly intensive physiotherapy. It was a time in my life that taught me quite how much we rely on mobile knees. Next time you need the loo (number 2), try going through the whole process without bending your right knee whatsoever.
So, by now I have quite an aversion to the idea of this sort of an injury. Which hasn’t served me so well over the past few weeks, during which time I have come to a dull and miserable acceptance that there’s something wrong with my left knee. It began while on holiday in April, after a week of walking several miles per day on a city break. During a meal on the last evening, my knee began to feel stiff. When I stood up to leave, it really quite hurt. Thinking nothing of it beyond ‘my knee has seized up, I guess this is what reaching your mid-20s feels like,’ I wandered back to the hotel… by which point it was swollen and rather painful. I tried to struggle through the next morning, before heading back to the airport, but it was a struggle. I was limping quite badly. Not good.
But with no indication of what I actually did to my knee, I was unsure how to proceed. I know what the protocol is when you injure yourself. You assess the severity then proceed to the nearest appropriate healthcare centre, if required. But what if a part of you just starts hurting, for no good reason? Presumably you give it a few days to see if it gets better. So I took a couple of days off work, rested and elevated my leg, and it started to improve. Good! Sort of.
Problem was, it only started to improve. That improvement didn’t continue. I spoke to my dad, knee injury specialist of the hour. He mentioned something about my meniscus.
That didn’t sound good. I knew my dad required surgery when he injured his meniscus. Now, I have a ridiculous fear of surgery, probably triggered by the fact that I had approximately eight billion operations by the time I was six seconds old. I spent so much of my childhood in hospitals that I have a serious, deep aversion to the places these days – particularly to the idea of going under the knife. It’s a completely irrational fear, of course: I know that my awareness of the event would stretch no further than a small sting in my arm followed by an hour of being completely unconscious. But still. It’s the sort of thing that makes me worry.
So I decided to book a GP appointment, but because I live in London, I was told the next appointment was a couple of weeks in the future. Instead, I hobbled off to the nearest NHS walk-in centre to get it checked out.
The nurse asked some questions and did some stress tests on my knee – generally picking my leg up and twisting it around and prodding it and saying ‘does that hurt?’ a lot. I described the nature of the pain: a sort of burning sensation behind my patella, offset to the right, that gets worse the more strain I put on it, and is especially bad when I bend or hyperextend the leg. The nurse didn’t seem too worried. No evidence of a serious injury, she said. Try to go easy on it for a few more weeks and it’ll be fine.
And so, several weeks later and still with a dodgy knee, I am now accepting that perhaps this is a thing that needs to be treated. Because I’m a person with the internet, I have of course spent some time searching for all the terrible things that might be wrong and all the dreadful things that may have to happen. The meniscus worry has continued to play on my mind, but I’ve managed to sort of convince myself there’s nothing wrong with that – my knee does click a bit sometimes, but it always has, and so does my other one. Various valgus tests, I think, rule out ligament damage of any real severity. But I do want to find out what’s going on. A wait for the GP is probably the next step.
Patellar-femoral pain syndrome is a thing that apparently exists, and sounds pretty accurate to what I’ve experienced: knee pain that comes on without much reason, and manifests as an ache behind the patella, which gets worse when walking long distances, going up and down stairs, or sitting down for a long time. All of these things are true. But no one really knows much about PFPS, by the looks of it. Barely two doctors can agree on a diagnosis, let along a course of treatment. The most successful way of managing this chronic knee condition seems to be a daily routine of stretches, which doesn’t sound too bad. But I am of course getting ahead of myself, and self-diagnosing like a silly bugger. I’ll just go to the doctor, and take it from there.
BUT! The reason I’ve written this long, rambly blog post about my dreadful knee is because I don’t want to be one of those people on the internet – those dreadful, horrendous people who post about how they have the exact same symptoms as you and are going to the doctor’s tomorrow… and then never, ever post again, disappearing into the ether as soon as they actually have a diagnosis to share. I can only imagine that they either A) are all told they have three minutes to live, or B) enjoy striking fear into the heart of millions of people worldwide when a simple follow-up post to say “oh hey, yeah, I’m fine” would suffice.
So I’m writing this so that, if you come across this blog post in the future and wonder what happened to me, you’ll be able to read the follow-up. And if it’s not there, you know you can email me shouting and demanding to know what the diagnosis was. Hold me to this, basically. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with my knee if it’s the last thing I ever do.