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…)

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