I have patellofemoral pain syndrome, commonly known as runner’s knee.
It began, of course, with running. Last fall, I took a 10-week running class with Jack Rabbit Sports which met twice a week in Central Park. The instructor’s goal was to get us all running a 5k comfortably by the end of the term. I had run before– back in my gym-rat law school student days, I ran three to four miles, at least three times a week. But after law school, I stopped running and gained weight, lots of it. At least 18 pounds. With the extra weight, my 10-minute-mile became 13 minutes of torture. I signed up for the running class hoping that I would just be able to run again; my pace was irrelevant. And by the last class in December, I could run, comfortably, for three miles.
I ran a 4-mile race in February after a month-long break from running. Not too long after that, my right knee began to feel…funny.
I noticed it first one night in a hot Vinyasa class. We were in pigeon. I couldn’t feel my toes. My knee was tight, uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right.
It didn’t necessarily hurt, however, so I ignored it. I signed up for a 10k and began my training. I joined Black Girls Run! and ran 3.2 miles around the Central Park Reservoir once a week. I ran with women who were much faster than I was, and so I pushed myself, sometimes running an 11 minute mile that left me gasping for air.
After weeks of those runs, I could no longer ignore what had become straight up pain. I felt it walking up and down the stairs at work. My knee buckled when I got out of bed first thing in the morning. It throbbed after vigorous Vinyasa classes. It was visibly swollen, and warm to the touch. Some days I had difficulty walking. I felt like a prisoner, like my body was falling apart.
My sister dragged me to Downstate, where I saw a great sports medicine physician. He asked me a ton of questions, tested my physical strength and flexibility, took X-rays, then diagnosed me with patellofemoral pain syndrome. No more running, he said. Try the elliptical. Or swimming. And physical therapy three times a week for twelve weeks. Come back and see me in seven. But remember: nothing high-impact. I asked him about my 10k, and I think he saw the look on my face. It’ll hurt, he said. A lot. But it’s up to you.
I was upset. The day of the 10k that I was supposed to run, I slept until noon, which is unusual for me. I moped and cried for days. Why me? I thought. I was just trying to take care of myself. I’m overweight, I know this. It was serious cardio, kept those winter pounds away. I hate the elliptical. Swimming is not practical. Guess I’m just supposed to be fat then.
I blamed the PFPS on myself. I had allowed myself get fat. Then I ran like this frame is supposed to carry 140+ pounds. I’m knock-kneed. Flat-footed. This body was not made for athleticism, obviously. Why even bother?
I finally got around to physical therapy after sulking for a while. My therapist asked me if I was new to running. I told him no, not really. I explained that I’d run quite a bit for years, but stopped running regularly until last year. He asked if I had experienced any pain in the past. The answer was no. He asked if I’d gained weight since then. I told him I was 20 lbs heavier now. He nodded. I wanted to cry. I was right. My knee hurt due to the extra weight. It was my fault, just as I’d suspected.
After one PT appointment, I came home and loafed, feeling powerless and annoyed my body and its failings. Then I happened upon this article on Jezebel. And Ms. Kaur’s words stirred something in me:
“However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us.”
This body is a gift.
This body is a gift.
This is an idea that I’d previously discussed with one of my favorite yoginis on Twitter, Jessica Lesley. Her “come to yoga” moment stemmed from, among other things, a childhood plagued by severe asthma. After years of being unable to keep up physically with her peers, she pushed herself as an adult, ultimately suffering anxiety attacks. Those anxiety attacks lead her to her first yoga class. She said, “…I now see movement and exercise as a privilege – not a chore, not something to do just so I can look good in a bikini.”
To have this body, and to be able to move it– no matter how painful those movements may be– is a privilege. My knee hurts sometimes. Like now. On a Friday night, when I want to be out celebrating my friend’s birthday. Instead I’m at home writing this post, with my laptop on my thighs and a bag of frozen mango on my knee. Instead of berating myself for my body’s shortcomings, I should marvel at its ability to heal. My body allows me to move freely every day. I can’t run, for now, but I can do what I need to do to take care of myself.
I now see my negative self-talk for what it was– disrespectful to me, and to my Creator.
There is nothing wrong with my knee. There is nothing wrong with me.
Thank you, Balpreet.