In September of 2011, when I was 27, I collided with another soccer player in a way that broke my knee. It was the most painful experience, and I screamed and writhed around on the ground not daring to look at my leg, which was bent in a way that it shouldn’t be. My team carried me off the field carefully, as even the slightest touch of my leg was excruciating. A teammate drove me to the ER. Doctors gave me intravenous painkillers, popped my leg back into alignment, put my leg in a temporary brace, and told me to go home and schedule surgery as soon as possible.
My girlfriend and I learned that the collision had torn my ACL, PCL, MCL, and lateral meniscus, and it had chipped part of my tibia. I needed one surgery to fix the “bucket-handle tear” of the lateral meniscus, and then only after recovering from that could I have the surgery that would replace my ACL.
Rehab was painful, tedious, and seemed to take forever. Every single day, I did tons of exercises, often with a physical therapist. I felt like my entire life was: wake up, rehab, work (from home in bed), rehab, sleep, repeat. I was getting exhausted. And I was so tired of standing on one leg in the shower.
I noticed that my right scapula (upper back) was hurting more and more. I knew that there hadn’t been a moment of trauma involving my back. I wondered if the weeks (was it months?) of crutching around affected my scapula. Maybe misalignment happened over time and began causing lots of pain. Then I remembered that my right scapula had occasionally hurt me even prior to my broken knee, so it must not have been caused by that (or the crutches). I think my scapula had even been hurting since 2010.
It got so bad that eventually I was in pain all the time and it was all I could think about. I couldn’t cuddle my girlfriend on the couch or even hug her very well. It was such a sad block of our normal physical affection.
I visited various health professionals (surgeon, physical therapist, chiropractor, masseuse, osteopath, personal trainer, and more). Each had his own theory and recommendations.
I remember being so eager to believe each of them, thinking “Oh, that’s a new angle… that seems to make sense… I’ll try what he says.” Most of them said essentially “Your right scapula is protruding and is called a winged scapula. Your upper body is weak; if you strengthen it, such as through rowing exercises, the pain will go away.” The masseuse said, “They’re wrong; the problem is that your chest is too tight, and it’s pulling your scapula out of position.”
None of what they recommended helped.
right knee + right scapula = ☹☹
HEADACHES EVERY DAY
In April 2012, I started getting bad headaches pretty much every day. Enough of them seemed to happen at around 5:30pm that I thought maybe it was related to walking home from work and having the sun in my eyes. I started wearing hats and darker sunglasses and holding my hand up in front of my face, trying to rule out “sun in my eyes” as cause of my headaches. I went to an eye doctor for an exam, and she said that my eyes seemed excellent. My headaches continued, as did my knee pain and scapula pain.
right knee + right scapula + headaches every day = ☹☹☹
Wrists (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), Fingers, and Elbows
In August 2012, I woke up one morning and felt like my wrist was broken. If I put pressure on it at all, it hurt tremendously. “Did I sleep on it? How could I have hurt myself in my sleep?” I wrapped it up in an Ace bandage for a couple days until it didn’t hurt as much. But soon my other wrist started hurting too.
My fingertips also felt bruised, and sometimes I’d feel pain in my elbows (e.g. tendinitis), and sometimes my fingers would have painful bulging veins or just be painful in general.
“Ohhh,” I thought. “This is starting to make sense. Maybe since I’m a software engineer and typing at my computer all day, my wrists hurt. And maybe from using the mouse all day, my right scapula hurts (since I’m right-handed). Maybe I get headaches at the end of a workday after staring at a screen all day.” This seemed to be a reasonable unifying theory.
The osteopath and chiropractor said I was developing carpal tunnel syndrome and I needed to wear wrist braces 24/7 and do regular stretches, massages, and breaks.
Since I’m on the computer 10+ hours per day, I wasn’t completely surprised, since I’d heard of RSI before, but I also couldn’t figure out why it was so sudden. I’ve always spent lots of time on the computer. So this theory was a scary one—my whole career depended on me spending lots of time on computers. I couldn’t imagine dialing that down.
So, the next month, I set myself up with expensive ergonomic equipment: a fancy Ergotron sit/stand desk, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, a Steelcase Leap chair, and a footrest from the Healthy Back Store. This would eliminate the possibility that my work environment was causing my pain.
But it didn’t help.
“OH MY GOD!” I thought. “Very recently (in my mid-twenties), I felt like the healthiest, most-active person. I played sports literally every day. Basketball, soccer, yoga, frisbee, running, surfing… you name it. Now that I’m 27, I feel like I’m dying! My body is completely falling apart. Everything is getting worse instead of better! None of the health professionals have helped! They just seem like they are guessing!”
right knee + right scapula + headaches every day + wrists, fingers, & elbows = ☹☹☹☹
BURSITIS IN LEFT HIP
In November, I started having constant pain in my left hip. “What did I do to hurt myself?” I wondered. “It was probably related to the stretching that my personal trainer was helping me do while he was trying to help my right knee feel better.”
I thought that maybe we just went too far or worked too hard and that I should back off.
But my hip didn’t get better.
right knee + right scapula + headaches every day + carpal tunnel syndrome + hip bursitis = ☹☹☹☹☹
Can you imagine being my partner through all of this?
When I had a broken knee, I had to pee in a special bottle, and Katie was nice enough to come get it and take it to the toilet. She drove me to my appointments, she made our food, she took care of everything.
And I couldn’t even hug her all that well because of my scapula pain. So I tried to thank her a lot and tell her how much she meant to me and how much I appreciated everything that she was doing. But all of my pain and all of the effort related to it (going to doctor appointments, doing rehab, buying new office equipment, etc) really took a toll on us.
It felt unfair to us that we were spending less time having fun together and more time being serious and desperately trying to figure out a path to feeling good again.
right knee + right scapula + headaches every day + carpal tunnel syndrome + hip bursitis – time having fun with girlfriend = ☹☹☹☹☹☹