My ACL story

Warning…long post ahead. Probably not all really climbing relevant, but maybe it helps someone who is experiencing a similar injury.

End of January I fell on a boulder problem in the gym, the ground was closer than expected (my feet were probably only 50 cm above the ground), so I had no time to look for it). My right foot hit the floor and my knee moved in directions it shouldn’t. I heard a crunch (or two) and felt something break.The second I landed I hammered the floor in despair, super angry about what just happened. I didn’t knew what it meant yet and my knee didn’t even really hurt, but I knew that the planned trips to fontainebleau and switzerland in spring wouldn’t happen for me.

A couple days later I got the diagnosis: ACL torn, MCL torn, meniscus cracked (also called ‘unhappy triad’). Yay! Surgery was 2.5 weeks later. I was pretty scared before, as the method sounds rather painful. They take two tendons, semitendinosus&gracilis,  from the hamstring (the whole length !) and fix these with screws to replace the ACL. But the surgery went well (apparently I have super solid bones, so it was tricky to get the screws in ;-P) and after 4 days I was released from the hospital. Pain was really well managed and after a couple days I was off painkillers.

As the first weeks you can’t really do a lot, you have a lot of time to think and google things about knee injuries … I had three big mental barriers to overcome to really stay positive and make the best out of it:

  1. Accept that it happened and nothing will make it unhappen. Sounds stupid, but as the accident felt so random, it took a while to not look back and think “what would have been if…”. The night after the accident I couldn’t sleep, so I made a list of things I could train to at least get stronger if I couldn’t climb. I upgraded the home training setup, started a training diary and got my first flappers from the beastmaker even before the surgery. I was able to keep up the motivation for training most of the time and it was very uplifting to see some progress.


  2. Accept that it might take longer than just 6 month to be 100% back to normal. From professional soccer players I read that they are back on the field at the earliest 6 month after the surgery. So this was the timeline I had in mind at first. But, I’m not a professional athlete, so I don’t get professional rehab and after 6 weeks at home I was back to my normal 40h job and had to squeeze physio and training in my free time. So I set the goal for myself to work towards being back to bouldering in the fall (9 months after surgery). Summer in the frankenjura is usually to warm for bouldering anyways.. I started toproping 2 months after surgery. At first I pretty much climbed with only leg, but with time I could use the other leg/knee more and more. I slowly increased difficulty and found a cool slab to try (somehow I always felt more comfortable on vertical climbs, as you move the knee only in 2 dimensions.)
  3. Accept that it might never be 100% normal again.
    Mentally the hardest time was maybe about three months after surgery. Many patients have reached full flexion by then, I had only about 110°. A doctor considered the possibility af arthrofibrosis (too much scar tissue in the knee) and for about three weeks I was super duper worried and spent too much time reading horror stories about that condition… I tried to increase flexion by all means, which usually ended in frustration and tears. But after my surgeon and two physios told me to just be patient and not worry I did just that. I kind of accepted that it might never be back to fully flexible. But when I measured flexion again after a couple of months, it had still increased:) Still some way to go, but there is still progress so I’m happy. Sometimes it’s better to just  relax  and let the body take its time to heal.
    A good read here: https://b-reddy.org/2013/10/23/the-biggest-mistakes-acl-patients-make/

 

 

Fast-forward some months…and countless hours on the bike and doing rehab exercises. I graduated from very simple isometric exercises to strength training (lots of squats and deadlifts with heavy weight) and started with dynamic stuff. The first weeks trying to jump on one leg I felt like an idiot…You know what to do theoretically, but you just can’t do it. I really had to relearn the movement  …and get the power back. My quadriceps is a muscle which usually grows when I only look at a bike…but now it is atrophied and gone…coming to life back only slow. But at least all this training keeps me in pretty good general shape I think;)

Exactly 6 months after the ACL surgery I sent one of my hardest routes (Cringer 8b+ in the Frankenjura). Maybe I should stop calling it rehab climbing? 😉 Or maybe not… It felt like a good approach to be mentally in rehab/training mode. For the most part of the last month (exception see above;-P) I really managed to focus on the things I could do instead of getting frustrated about the things I can’t do yet. I never pushed the knee too far, I was staying in the comfort zone. But always carefully trying to extend the comfort zone… And with no expectations on myself or the knee it’s easier to be happy about little improvements each week. Nice, I can use the leg more, oh wow I can heelhook, cool I can jump down from a meter and it feels good,… Also surprised myself by doing such a long route so quick… :)The leg is still a good bit weaker, it definitely needs a bit more time and training️ before I’m ready for bouldering season… But that’s ok, as I’m really enjoying the routes and the summer☀️

Pic: Sarah Seeger

Big thanks to Thomas Bayer / UK Erlangen for the quick MRI,  Volker Schöffler/Sportsmedicine Bamberg  for the great surgery & follow-ups, Simon Friedrich & other physios/Rehazentrum Valznerweiher for the motivating rehab training and treatment, all the fellow ‘kneehab friends’ who shared their experience with me and everyone else for all the support and patience!

If someone with a knee injuries has questions, just get in touch (dorokara.wordpress@gmail.com)! I had a lot of people giving me advice and I’m happy to share my experience:)

My pro-tips for life with crutches. 😉 (I made these for a friend who got knee surgery a couple days after me…)

Back to bouldering…Sunny days in Ticino

Spot the difference: Before (CT) and after surgery (X-ray)
Spot the difference: Before (CT) and after surgery (X-ray)

After a couple months of ‘rehab-climbing’, the final X-ray for my wrist showed that everything healed fine and that the lunate bone (Os lunatum, the bone with the cyst) looks normal again. Even though I was pretty positive about the healing process before, hearing that from the doctor was a huge relief! My only souvenir is a nice ‘pirate scar’ on my wrist as a reminder that I’m not unbreakable 😀

Since then I’ve started bouldering again and the wrist feels great, stable and no pain at all:) I’m only avoiding these weird huge plastic sloper and volumes in the gym where the wrist is in a very contorted position …after reading so much about wrist injuries these don’t feel ‘healthy’ anymore….

I was obviously very psyched for my first climbing trip in a year: Ticino for New Years Eve. Except the first two days we had perfect weather with a lot of sun. I got sucked into trying a bit harder problems than planned… Oh well, I had a lot of fun and seem already be in alright shape…

Back home in the frankenjura I took advantage of a single day with perfect weather and sent my first 8a boulder after the injury, the tricky ‘Barny Geröllheimer’. Very excited for the rest of 2015!!!

weeeeeho I’m back…. ! unfortunately with a bang…

Pic by @sarah_seeger: my very first day outside! Sooooo happy to be back climbing after a 7 months long break due to my #stupidwrist. Some days later, I made the most stupid mistake in my life though: Using a too short rope, which resulted in a groundfall. Luckily without severe consequences, feeling much better already. Please stay safe everyone and MAKE A KNOT IN THE OTHER END OF THE ROPE…

Life without climbing…at least for now

Climbing has always been part of my life: as a baby I slept in the stroller while my parents climbed in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and later most of our vacations were spent in one of the numerous climbing areas all over Europe. When me and my brother had the choice between hiking and climbing on the weekend, we usually choose climbing, as it meant that we could play instead of going on a “boring hike”. So from an early age on I’m used to spend a lot of time moving outside and on the rocks surrounding me and love it. This scrambling around on the rocks was always playful, not about performance/improving/grades. Our parents never pushed us in any way, they were just happy to share the experience being outside. Maybe one exception: my dad got tired of putting up topropes for me, so he promised me a set of quickdraws for my first 6b on lead 🙂

 

Even though a big part of my childhood was spent near the rocks, I discovered my own passion for climbing as a (performance-oriented) sport rather late, around 12 years ago. I was asked if I wanted to train with the local youth climbing team and from that day on I’ve been climbing usually four times a week. Even though I spend most of the day doing other things (university, working, friends,…), climbing has been part of every day, every daydream and influencing many of my decisions. Through all these years, I’ve never really been injured, some tweaked fingers or the usual suspect, my right shoulder, but never something which wouldn’t be fine after two weeks rest and taking it easy afterwards.

Right now it’s different story though: I’m in my 5th month without climbing. It started with a strained tendon in the wrist from a weird undercling (which should be fine by now) and more gravely, a bone marrow edema in a wrist bone (lunate). For months I didn’t had a definite diagnosis, I was told it might be just from overuse, could be caused from an intraosseous ganglion/cyst or (worst case) Kienbock’s disease (don’t google that one, trust me).
I should avoid any stress/weight/ on the wrist, which means no climbing/pull-ups/hanging of any kind. At first it wasn’t so bad to stop climbing for a while: no stress with projects/skin/bad weather and a lot more time! Working full-time plus commuting 2 hours a day means I have to organize my days pretty diligently to free some time for climbing.

After a couple of weeks though, my energy levels dropped. I put so much energy in my climbing, but get so much out of it in return! My body and mind are so used to it, I needed something else to replace it. So I did more yoga, running & biking and monkeying around one handed in the gym. Oh well, all fun, but nothing makes me feel as good as climbing… My body misses the movement on rock and my mind misses having goals to work towards. It’s a weird feeling waking up day after day without that familiar soreness from climbing and just as weird going to bed with a crowded mind… Nothing clears up my mind as well as climbing.

I’m generally a very positive person, approaching every problem with the attitude that you could solve this if you think hard enough about it / try hard enough. But with the injury there is nothing I can do about it. Just rest… and wait. And so there were days where I converted to the dark side. The dark side corrupted me with negative thinking and envisioning worst-cases and “what would’ve been if…”. Not really understanding where the injury comes from didn’t help with the trust in my body. Not knowing how long it would take to heal neither…

In the last week the situation changed, as I got a more definite diagnosis: Other examinations showed that the main cause of evil is an intraosseus ganglion grown into the bone, which basically caused a hole in the bone. I will get surgery in a couple of days to fill this hole. So relieved to have a diagnosis that makes sense but on the other hand super bummed to rest for a even more months!


The thought that helps me the most is how many years climbing has been a part of my life and how many more decades it will be. Eight months off in total (if everything heals well) sure sound A LOT, but I have to put them in the perspective of my whole life. Of course then that devilish little voice in my head keeps on telling me: “but you wanted to try this and travel there and do this and learn to do that… When are you gonna do all this?” But as I got older I have realized that I will be never able to fulfill or even try to fulfill all my dreams, even the ones which are in principle realistic. .. Time is limited. On the one hand an unpleasant thought, on the other hand I definitely find it quite comforting that I will never ever run out of dreams, ideas and goals… (Would be kind of sad if that happens, no?) I know that climbing will supply me with enough goals to work for, places to travel and people to meet for more than a lifetime. Some of these will now just have to wait a bit longer…