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ACL Reconstruction - Third Time's the Charm

fitness injury Oct 15, 2019

Originally Published on 8/5/19

I started running again. It’s been so, so good.

7 years ago when I first started running, I did it to lose weight. Unexpectedly, it became my therapy time. I liked being alone with my thoughts and feeling a sense of accomplishment at the same time. I did the thing! I ran the distance! I got the medal! I loved it.

Legit the best race pic I've ever had taken.
This was during my second triathlon.
I'm high-fiving another runner - this was a straight away where we ran down and back, so we passed by other runners.

I first hurt myself playing adult indoor co-ed soccer. I was playing forward (goal-scorer for those not familiar with soccer positions – co-ed indoor soccer is extra sexist because women get 2 points when they score, and men just get 1) and was running full speed to score as the other team’s keeper (aka goalie) slid toward me/the ball. I leaped to avoid full impact, but he still collided into me in the air, where I twisted around and we both fell to the ground. It didn’t seem any worse than any other injury I’d had in my 20 years of playing soccer until I tried to walk. I couldn’t. My teammates carried me to the sideline where I got some ice and fully prepared to go back in the game in a few minutes. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever felt, so I did go back in the game because I’m stubborn like that. I couldn’t run, though, and wound up back on the sideline. It felt like the top part of my leg was disconnected from the bottom part – super wobbly and unstable.

Spoiler alert: it’s because it was.

I had torn my ACL and both menisci in that freak soccer accident. I had surgery to reconstruct it all and went on with my life. ACL surgery recovery is slooooow. It takes 6-12 months of doing everything right, aka not being stubborn (not my strongest suit). I was terrified of losing running/fitness as my therapy. I was terrified of getting fat again. Because of this, I pushed it too hard and my ACL became very weak even after it healed.

That made it super easy to tear it again when I did a Tough Mudder. I can’t be sure when I tore it during the race, but I think it was from jumping off one of the tall fences we had to climb. I don’t know, because I finished the race. Remember? I’m Stubborn with a capital S. My knee hurt, but it wasn’t unbearable and I’m no wuss (I told myself). Welp, two weeks after the race my knee pain and swelling hadn’t gone away at all. It looked like a softball, so I reluctantly scheduled an MRI.

Yep, I tore my ACL again. Just 1 meniscus this time, though. Improvement!

These two injuries were 14 months apart. Should I have done a Tough Mudder that soon after ACL surgery? Probably not. I can’t change it for myself now, so learn from my mistake! I had ACL and meniscus reconstruction surgery again. You’d think 2 times would be enough.

My meniscus continued to be a problem after this surgery. Finally, about 2 years later I decided to have one more surgery to fix it once and for all. It was holding me back from running, and mentally I was really struggling with not being able to do what I once could. Meniscus surgery has a 4 week recovery time, and I reasoned that that was better than a lifetime of having to deal with it hurting.

It’s funny how wrong I was.

I woke up from my meniscus surgery with a full ACL brace on. I was hazy from the anesthesia, but I vividly remember asking my doctor what happened. He told me he checked on my ACL and it just fell apart, so he replaced it while I was already cut open, as opposed to me tearing it a couple of months down the road and having to schedule yet another surgery.

I was devasted. Devastated. 4 weeks recovery turned into a year. Another year.

Running was my therapy. My life was so hectic and chaotic at that time – I really needed the escape. Mentally, I couldn’t get past the thought that I’d never be able to run like I used to, and that I did it to myself by not allowing my body to heal properly. It was a terrible feeling. I basically gave up on working out at this point and let my ACL heal properly and slowly. I gained weight. I lost my endurance, stamina and a lot of physical strength. I was really, really sad about it.

For each ACL reconstruction, I had a cadaver graft. I was told it was better as far as recovery time. Now I’ve read articles suggesting that it’s better to use your own tissue to ensure the graft is as strong as possible, especially if you play high-demand sports like soccer. It was difficult to not be bitter toward my doctor for not catching this – I tore my ACL playing soccer, so he should have recommended the right kind of graft to give me the best shot to continue playing soccer and doing other knee-intensive events. Like a Tough Mudder. And running in general.

I had terrible scar pain along the incision that really held me back, too. It was like I was Harry Potter, only Voldemort didn’t come back and I just got fatter. I had scar tissue built up from 3 different incisions, and my whole knee would swell up and hurt if I just stood on my feet for too long, much less went for a jog. This kept me very sedentary.

My last surgery was almost 3 years ago. I’ve tried a lot of different workouts and fitness classes, but I just don’t love anything and much as I love running – HIIT classes and boxing come in tied for second place. I think it’s the freedom of running that I like – all you need is your headphones and some shoes, and you’re set. You don’t have to think up a workout or abide by a class schedule. You can just go.

Apps I Use

I’m starting slowly with Couch to 5k – that’s how I started my whole running journey way back when. I use the Active C25K app – it’s $2.99 and available on iOS and Android. I’m sure there are free apps out there, but I like this one.

If you’re already able to run a 5k, try the Hal Higdon training plans for half marathons and marathons. There’s an app, or you can look at his website. I used the half marathon training plans back when I was training for half marathons.

For regular runs without a training plan associated, I like and use the Map My Run app.

Like I said, I’m easing back into it with C25K. I’m not going for speed. Once I can run a 5k, I’ll set new goals, but for now my goal is to run a 5k – running the whole time. Also, I run with my kid and our youngest and most spry dog, Shelbee. I prefer running alone, but I’ll settle for setting a good example of health and fitness. Twist my arm.

Tomorrow I’ll post my favorite running gear I use in general and for injuries!

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