The Dreaded Knee Injury
It’s a long time since I last posted an article about my travels. It will a bit longer still as this article focuses more on something that plagued me for the rest of the Odyssey and still today at times. It happens to the best of us in the Jiu-Jitsu community, especially those who always grapple at high aggressiveness or compete, hell it just happened to Gordon Ryan arguably the best of best of the Jiu-Jitsu competitors. Sooner or later we get injured on this path of the Jiu-Jitsu Life. It’s not about if we will get hurt but more rather when and how and can we mitigate and minimize those injuries through smart training, which is whole other topic. It just comes down to it that injuries come with Jiu-Jitsu, like all combat or full contact sports, and at some point you’re going to have a back problem, a popped elbow, a torn shoulder or of the one thing everyone fears the most, a popped or torn knee. Through my Jiu-Jitsu life so far I have been very lucky with no major injuries sidelining me from training (excuse me while I now dawn every possible ward and hex to protect me after making such a bold statement) but while traveling I was met with a serious enough injury that kept me from the mats at times, or at least learning to adapt and cope so I could continue to train, and at one point almost made me just quit the Odyssey all together.
Let’s pick up where I last left off in the previous article I wrote a while back. Since It’s been awhile click the link to read about my time in Auckland and Taupo NewZealand if you haven’t already or want to recap the previous adventures. I had just finished teaching and rolling with the fine bunch of eager killers at ROC Taupo and was about to head back to my hostel for the last night there before taking the bus in the morning to meet up with a long time friend from Canada who now lives in Wellington. The class I taught all focused around the half guard and with that so did the rolling afterwards. This means there was a lot of knee action involved throughout the session. At this point I had been wearing knee pads for a while. I came to terms that wearing protection isn’t about being old or weak and first picked up a pair at the first BJJ Globetrotters camp I went to in Heidelberg Germany. I have for a long time had problem with patellar bursitis on my left knee that comes and goes when I train a lot. Luckily I don’t get swelled up kneecaps like in the link but there is a little swelling and a lot of tenderness right under the kneecap on the patella. This makes it impossible to use that knee on the mats (as in direct contact to the mats like pushing off or kneeling etc.) without incredible pain at times. It started to flare up when I was at the camp and I decided I didn’t want to miss out on training and rolling with everyone so caved in and got a pair of knee pads, like I was admitting I’m some old guy now or something. Best decision ever, in reflection I think anyone who trains aggressively or trains a lot in general should get knee pads just to protect the longevity of their working knee joints. Jiu-Jitsu is hard on our knees for a number of reasons after all.
Anyways back the story, so I finished class with everyone and we all slowly packed up and were leaving together while still chatting about Jiu-Jitsu and traveling, my left knee, the hurt knee, being a knee intensive training session it was quite sore. This is something I noticed coming in waves while I was traveling, if I had good aggressive sessions or a lot of training days in a row, my knee would tend to hurt, and a rest day from the mats just meant more sight seeing which meant more hiking and not really resting my legs. A point I overlooked for the longest time. So we’re leaving the gym and standing on the sidewalk, I say my goodbyes and pivot to walk down the street away from them and *RIP* I feel this horrible cutting/burning sensation from the inside of my left knee. I instantly stop and say to the guys ‘I think I just tore my meniscus’ to which they just laugh and walk away and get into their cars, thinking I’m joking. I gave it a few seconds and tried to shake it off, maybe it was some sort of nerve reaction to the training, it hurt like hell and wasn’t going away. I slowly limp down the sidewalk toward the hostel thinking what the fuck do I do now?! I couldn’t believe it, It wasn’t during some competition match or some life or death situation on the streets, or even an aggressive roll in a gym, of all things I hurt my knee from walking down the street…
Looking back I can see now there were all kind of signs of the knee hurting from all sorts of different actions, telling me to take better care. It’s funny really when I think back of all the times I would just foam roll things out and do light yoga and think that fixes everything. Really I may of helped my back and relaxed all my aching muscles but nothing I was doing was taking care of the joints. It wasn’t until this point that I even thought about what to do in this situation, and really it wasn’t even until much later on that I even began to do anything for it to really heal it other than just rest. One thing I know I still don’t do enough is ice my joints after training. Through my travels I had the privilege of being able to try some cold baths at a few places, most notably the cold tank at Mjolnir Gym in Reykjavik Iceland during the BJJ Globetrotters Iceland camp, the Chill’n Out cryotherapy chamber in San Diego during the Free Rollers San Diego camp and of course jumping into the Arctic Ocean in Nuuk Greenland at the BJJ Globetrotters Greenland camp. They all work amazingly well, I felt so good after training, joints not hurting near as much and all muscle cramping gone. Really folks, we need to ice our joints and make ice baths a usual thing at gyms.
So I make it back to the Hostel and I rest and stretch out and ice my knee. I was in a torrent of emotions that night as I thought out my options. What if it’s worse in the morning? What if I can’t train anymore? Should I go to the Doctor’s? Or just got home and get it check out it? What if I have to quit the Odyssey? All sorts of questions went through my head that night, I decided ice it and get some rest and figure it out when I get to Wellington. In morning it actually didn’t feel too bad, I felt like I strained something but I really never know when I tear things until I finally get it checked out and I’m told. I definitely wasn’t doing anything strenuous on that knee anytime soon. I say as I continued to hike around with my 25kg backpack. After a few days my knee still hurt but I still trained without rolling. Only going to classes for drills without any rolling really sucks, especially when you’re visiting the gym in what might be you’re one and only time ever being there and meeting these people. But it was better than nothing.
At this point for the next few months I was trying to continue training like normal until something hurt, then I would stop doing that one thing but continue on. I did this through Singapore and Cambodia and most of South East Asia where I would try this trial and error method, often doing things I shouldn’t be doing in the first place, until I would hurt myself again then say no more of that one action, trying to find my limits with this injury without missing too much training. It’s a weird concept to explain now but it’s all made sense back then. I want to see the world, I want to meet and train with as many people as I can. This injury prevents all of that but if I can just find ways around it I’ll be OK. But really I’m just hurting my knee more and more while I travel. In Cambodia, which was shortly after New Zealand, I was there for the holidays and took a week or so off to rest and heal. I then decided I would join in on the class warm up running and doing a leap frog type drill, for some reason I was thinking I could hop on that knee that I can barely do more than walk with. Hurt again. This obviously wasn’t a great method to dealing with an injury while traveling and really I should have have stopped and put up with the fact I was missing training until my knee was healed. Sometimes you’re just caught up in the moment.
It wasn’t until I was in Vietnam weeks later after Cambodia that I began to even think about doing anything other than just rest and stretch and ice. I hurt myself yet again trying to do the drills in class that the instructor, an American expat wrestler who has a lot of experience with this type of injury, told me about rehabilitation methods for the knee to strengthen it. The thought of rehab never occurred to me but as the same time I knew I should have been looking to it as soon as he told me. At this point it had been around 2 months since first hurting it in New Zealand and as the instructor said, whatever got injured is healed, now it’s about making it work right again. 3 years ago, the year before starting the Odyssey, I had an operation on my neck to remove a tumor causing all kinds of tension on my neck and shoulders. That operation led to months of rehab in my neck and shoulders to get the posture and strength back to be able to roll again. It took very little time for the neck to heal, but it took a lot longer to get everything working right again so I wouldn’t have neck and shoulder pains from light rolling. Having gone through that I should’ve have been thinking the same thing for my knee but instead of looking for ways to make the joint stronger I was treating it like it was a continuing injury to be dealt with later, which just led to it to hurting more and more not getting better.
So I get put on the right path in Vietnam and start looking at different rehab videos on YouTube. Slowly I start putting together what I can and can’t do for training and a rehab sequence I can do while staying in hostels. The hardest part was keeping within my limitations for training and continuing to do the rehab workout consistently. I would do the routine for a while, as in the whole week while visiting a city, then it would feel better and I would forget about it the exercises the next stop and my knee would start aching again. This cycle of ‘fixed again, hurt again’ happened over and over until I finally got home and got into a regular routine to fix the knee and make it feel better and stronger. As of today I would say my knee is still a little messed up if I train hard or a lot over a week but it also feels a hell of a lot better and I no longer worry about doing most warm ups or rolling several rounds in a row. I don’t think it will ever be 100% and I’m sure at some point I’ll end up having to get an operation done down the road but the more aware of my joints, all joints not just knees, and the more I work toward keeping them healthy then hopefully that day won’t be for a long time.
So remember folks, keep good care of your joints. I’m not a professional on this stuff and there is a plethora of videos and articles on joint and muscle care for BJJ out on the internet but a few steps I’ve learned, some too late. Ice them after training, especially long and aggressive sessions. Take rest days, I know of some people who schedule a week off just to let their joints and ligaments reset and relax. Of course always tap early and be kind to your partners, my elbows have suffered from ignoring both of those facts, not taping during competitions and partners who think your arm is a stick shift and needs to be slammed into 5th gear to get the tap. But most importantly, always be careful of doing anything strenuous after class when your muscles and joints are sore and tired and cooling down and tightening, never know, you just might tear your knee walking down the stupid fucking street.
I’ll be returning to retelling all my tales and adventures of traveling the world, training Jiu-Jitsu and meeting awesome people in the next post, where I meet up my old friend and fellow traveling Canadian in Wellington New Zealand.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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