What went wrong with my knee and why
Once again, running barefoot has allowed me to stay active while a leg healed. It was not exactly a running injury. I was running with my one-year-old-labrador-bundle-of-energy and needed to correct her with a sudden pull on the leash. Unfortunately, I did this in a twisting way while mid stride. The result was the inside lateral ligament on my right knee getting over-stretched.
The knee felt odd right away, in a way that was pretty clearly identifiable. It felt like it might not hold my weight if my steps were not very careful. It came very close to buckling under me a couple of times. I was, a usual, running barefoot at the time, or I expect I would have ended up with worse trouble.
I was near the end of my run and tentatively finished, wanting to test what was happening. The knee felt like it would hold up as long as I kept my body mechanics well centered and avoided sudden movements. There was no swelling, so that was a good sign.
Carefully deciding to continue running
Over the course of the next couple of days, the stairs were the hardest thing to do. Since significant portions of my living quarters require stairs, I slowly went up and down every day. I cut way back on my running for about 3 days, but was still able to run 2-3 miles and feel very good afterward.
In fact, what startled me was that my knee felt stronger right after each run. During the runs, I was careful not to push the speed, but also not to plod. I worked on my form for a relaxed, light gait. Not only did this avoid any feeling of impeding collapse of the joint, but it apparently strengthened the muscles supporting the knee.
No one ever told me running would make my knees stronger
Around day 4, I decided the knee felt good enough running to slowly increase my mileage again. Again, every time I ran it felt noticeably more stable afterward and continued to feel that stable. Stairs were still quite challenging, so it was like I was living in a world of bizarre extremes. However, knowing that continued movement is often a vital part of the healing process, I continued with the running movements that seemed to be helping.
Designing my own supplemental physical therapy
I also experimented with continuing my squats during my minimal weight lifting routine. I did this VERY slowly, making very sure that I was aligned well and nothing felt at all tweaked or strained during the exercises. I did not attempt any new goals, but just stayed right where I had been before the injury. My knee never felt worse after this, so I assumed it was also worthwhile.
It was also time to begin planting my garden, and you know things like that can’t wait. Again, I avoided sudden moves and twisting motions, but I still dug, and knelt, and carried. Actually, the time when I was most likely to accidentally tweak my knee was trying to go sideways in to my desk chair. I quickly learned not to do that.
Unexpected speed in spite of holding back
A month later, my knee felt 100%! It seemed like the stairs were hard until the end, then all of a sudden they were easy. I was back up to my pre-injury mileage. PLUS, my speed had incidentally increased! I have to attribute this to concentrating on a light, floating stride. If anything, I was holding back on my sense of effort.
The speed increase is not going to win me any grand prizes, but it is close to a minute per mile faster for the same effort. Proof again that trying harder is not always the key to improvement.
What worked for me might not work for you
I have had a knee injury before that completely incapacitated my knee for a week and inhibited activity for 6 months. So I’m not suggesting that every knee injury can be dealt with this way. However, I think that we can be too quick to give up on movement when something hurts. Movement is often crucial for proper and timely healing.
Those first couple of weeks, I felt really old going up and down the stairs. It would have been easy to rationalize sitting around more. I reminded myself that giving up would definitely make me old, whereas if I kept moving, I had some hope of feeling better again. This week, I climbed (barefoot) rather nimbly over a 4 foot fence chasing my escaped baby goats. If that’s not proof of healing, I don’t know what is!