The Long Road Back

The great concert pianist, Ignace Paderewski, is quoted as saying: “When I miss a day of practice, I know it. When I miss two days, my teacher knows it. When I miss five days, the audience knows it.”

As you know, I’ve missed the equivalent of a month on the bike, with just a few days sprinkled in there where I actually got a chance to ride. And boy, do I know it.

Our friend, Don Blount, has just told us about the rehabilitation regimen he’s putting himself through to return to biking from surgery. Don is a focused, goal-driven kind of guy. I take more of a recreational approach to my biking. I want to have a good day on the bike, maybe cover a decent amount of ground, and feel like I’ve accomplished something when it’s over.

It didn’t feel that way Saturday.

My own fault, really. We’ve had a good amount of rain here this spring — for Central Texas, that is — and my yard has exploded in green. The growing grass, combined with the live oaks that have shed last year’s leaves over the last few weeks, have left me a mess to take care of. I spent much of Saturday morning shoveling leaves into bags (that’s right — there were so many in such big piles, I didn’t have to do a lot of raking), trimming overgrown ground cover around trees, and cutting the grass in the front yard for the first time this year. By the time I was done, I was bushed.

But it was a beautiful, 90-degree (32C) day, and there was no way I was going to pass up riding under these conditions.

I picked a favorite route, one that would take me through my neighborhood and out to Austin’s Veloway. If I did two laps of the Veloway after the trip to get there, I’d have about 18 miles.

But halfway around my first lap of the Veloway, I knew I had had it. I completed the lap and headed home. Fifteen miles, and I was so tired that I flopped on the bed in my bike clothes, immediately fell asleep, and didn’t wake up for three hours.

Okay, it was the yard work and the 90-degree temps that did me in. Sunday would be better, because I was going out first thing in the morning.

I met my riding buddy Maggie, and we agreed to take a new trail (new to us) that would get us up a hill to a busy road. She had been on the trail once, and was unsure about the exact route, but she led the way without a hitch. The trail was rough in spots, but a good one. We circled around to a paved hill near my house, and she suggested working our way over to another trail that would take us back down the hill.

Maggie grabs a drink before we head down the rocky trail.

Maggie grabs a drink before we head down the rocky trail. (Click to enlarge.)

This is a rough trail. I glanced off a rock, and my foot flew off the pedal. It was all I could do to keep the bike under control as it picked up speed down a rocky cut. I didn’t want to brake too much, because if I hit a rock at slow speed, it could mean an endo.

We got down it okay, but the skies decided to open up then, accompanied by bolts of lightning. We headed over to my house before the worst of it hit.

My wife was happy to see Maggie, because they had a lot of catching up to do. After a half hour or so, the weather had cleared, and she headed home. I showered, then sat down at the computer to do some work.

It was getting up that got me. The hilly trails rendered the backs of my thighs really sore. I could walk it off all right, but for the rest of the day, whenever I stood up, I had to wait for the soreness to pass.

Maggie told me she had had hip problems at the same time I was off the bike, so we’re both embarking on comebacks of our own. I hope it won’t be a long one — there’s a lot of riding to be made up. But I’m out of practice, and I know it.

 

 

They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab — I Said Yes, Yes, Yes!

Guest poster Don Blount sets an example for us all by the way he’s coming back from hip replacement surgery.

BlountOnBiking
April 20 marked 39 days since I underwent surgery to replace my left hip.

Since then my focus has been on recovery, rehab and rest.

This is my second hip replacement; my right hip was replaced with an artificial joint in 2004. But this time around a less-invasive surgery has enabled me to recover more quickly.

I checked into the hospital at 12:30 p.m. March 12, underwent surgery later that day, and was on my way home by 2:30 p.m. March 13, a stay of 26 hours.

Because I was fit, my surgeon’s directions was to monitor any swelling I had in my leg. A physical therapist instructed me to not overdo it.

I was on a bike trainer by Sunday. I was not pedaling fast, hard or with any resistance but I was pedaling.

Trainer_Rehab

I spent my days doing rehab exercises and reading while elevating and icing my leg. I read nine books in 30 days and watched live at least part of every game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

My rehab includes:

  • Bike. First on the trainer and now on the road.

Bike_Selfie copy

  • Pool. I have a series of exercises to do in the pool to strengthen my hip and legs. This workout takes about 50 minutes.
  • Gym. Leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, calf raises, resistance bands, treadmill and elliptical trainer. This workout takes about 90 minutes. Here’s a look.
  • Exercises for core, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes and stretches for quadriceps. Click here to view workout video:

I am still working on walking without a limp and building my stamina. I find that rest includes a lot of naps after rehab work.

Without question, cycling has helped me through this process. Physically, I am in better shape and that has its obvious benefits. But mentally having ridden hills, centuries and double centuries helped me too. As I have told others, recovering from hip replacement surgery is nothing compared to going up a long difficult climb.

Overall, I am pleased with my progress. I returned to work on April 15 and although I am doing well, I do not receive full clearance until June 12, which is three months after surgery. Hmm, that would put the Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century just under four months away….

I Suck At Mountain Biking

Instead of the usual Sunday road ride, my friend Maggie and I decided to get out the mountain bikes this morning. She put an invitation to join us on our club’s message board, but we had no takers. When we showed up at the club ride start, some of the roadies greeted us with bemusement at our getup, but soon we left in different directions.

Our target was Bauerle Ranch, a subdivision surrounded by nice singletrack trails. (I’ve written about it before.) We had had a little bit of rain overnight, and the dew point was high, so once we got onto the trails close to home, we could see that today’s ride would be somewhat muddy.

The thin grass along the trail has exploded in growth with all the rain over the past couple of weeks, and being wet, it gave us leg baths as we pedaled along the skinny trail.

But the rain had had another effect, too: It put a lot more rocks across the trail. I don’t mind rock gardens the way I used to, but the ones today were loose, and I could feel my rear wheel skid out to the side when it glanced off them. Nothing serious, but I did find myself stop and walk over a couple of areas that I had ridden just weeks ago.

route

At Bauerle Ranch, the trail starts out as easy singletrack, but soon starts to dip with lots of rocks to navigate. I was leading the way, and came around a corner to see a large rock in the middle of the track. The front wheel slid a bit, and I realized I  would not be able to navigate around the rock — but I wasn’t about to hit it, either. Yeah, right. I hit the brake — the front brake — at the same time the front wheel hit the rock.

Bam! Endover! My right leg slammed into another rock along the trail, and I wound up on my bottom, legs across the trail and my bike on top of them. Already, I could see blood start to roll down the shinbone. I struggled to get the bike off me, as Maggie sympathized.

“What a sight you are right now!” she exclaimed. “I wish I had a GoPro for that one.”

“It felt like I was going over in slow motion,” I said.

“It looked like it, too,” she shot back.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn't find until the end of the ride.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn’t find until the end of the ride.

I got untangled, and we mounted back up and kept going. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. Maggie got well ahead of me when I slowed to chat with another biker we encountered, and when I caught up to her, she was at the side of the Veloway, intently staring at the ground.

“Look at this cool spider!” she said. “It was in the middle of the Veloway, so I got it off to the side so it wouldn’t get run over.”

A bit hard to make out, because it's well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

A bit hard to make out, because it’s well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

It was cool, but neither of us had any idea what it was. (If you know, fill me in.) We left it, and headed home.

Back at Starbucks, we got to assess just how muddy we were from the day’s ride. Our bikes took the brunt of it, but we were well-spotted, too.

Muddy buddies.

Muddy buddies.

It was good to get back on the mountain bike again. But I still suck at it. I’ll keep flailing away, and hope to get better.

Yipes! My Hip Hurts!

I dunno. I must be getting old. About a month ago, I started to feel it. Whenever I came back from a bike ride, I felt great. I stretched, showered, and changed, then sat down — maybe for a meal, maybe to watch a little TV, maybe to noodle on this blog.

And when I stood up again — Yow! My left hip hurt like a sonuvagun.

It didn’t take long to get rid of the pain. I just walked it off, stepping around the house or outside a bit. But it persisted. Whenever I sat down for any length of time, I could count on the ache — soreness –hurt — when I got up again.

I was at the doctor’s on a routine visit, when I brought it up. “Could be arthritis,” was the guess. “Take anti-inflammatories — Aleve, Ibuprofen.”

“What about glucosamine-chondroitin?” I asked.

“Well, that might work,” she said. “Try it if you want. Some people say it’s good.”

My wife is one of those who do. But I haven’t gone that route yet. In fact, I’ve noticed the pain isn’t as bad lately. Partly, that’s because the Aleve really works well.

“You took two Aleve?” asked my wife, incredulous. “The dose is only one.”

“Yeah, worked good,” I said. “Rode the bike for two hours, and I haven’t felt any soreness all day.”

Well, it’s not all gone yet. I still get a twinge when I stand. But all I need to do is walk down the hall, and it shakes out. I think I won’t panic for the time being.

Slow Recovery

It’s been a disappointing week. I thought I had been making a good comeback from my fall two weeks ago. Last Sunday, I did an easy 32-mile ride with no bad consequences. But Monday, I developed some pains in my side.

I had been having these feelings pretty much since the fall, but they were minor. I mostly concentrated on that huge bruise I blogged about last week, and then a hip pointer made itself known. Football players (American football) and hockey players get these, from banging the point of their pelvis bones against something hard. Most of the time, it’s not there, but when I bend my left leg a certain way, the pain is enough to make me jump.

Then on Tuesday, I decided to do my after work ride. It’s a 19-20 mile jaunt through my neighborhood. This time, as soon as I got on the bike, I could feel that pain in my side again. It feels as though something under my ribs is bruised, and if I bend at the waist a certain way, it’s quite painful.

On the bike Tuesday, that ache was with me throughout the ride. Instead of 19 miles, I cut it short and did only 12.

“You should see the doc,” said my wife, when I told her what had happened.

Luckily, my doctor keeps evening hours on Wednesday, and booked me an appointment that evening. He’s always been supportive of my biking, because of the changes it’s made in such indicators as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Of course, this is a negative effect.

He had me do some stretches, which didn’t hurt. He poked and prodded my sides, and found the quarter-sized spot on my left ribcage that triggered the pain. It’s where the rib meets cartilage, and he told me the cartilage is the damaged part.

“In my professional opinion,” he said, adopting a pedantic tone, “you’re banged up.”

There is nothing to be done. “Even if you had a broken rib, we wouldn’t do anything,” he said. “We’ve stopped wrapping ribs. It turns out that can cause pneumonia.”

He did recommend heat. And anti-inflammatories, which I’d already been taking. But it looks like it will be several weeks before the aches and pains go away.

I dug out the heating pad, and it does work. Saturday, I got on the bike and repeated the ride I had started Tuesday. This time, I did the whole 19 miles. My torso felt fine.

I rode again today. The only time it feels sore is when I stand to pedal up a hill, so I rode a mostly flat course. But I can ride without pain.

I’m looking forward to riding again Tuesday after work. My time in the saddle is really down this year. I’ve got some catching up to do.

 

Biking Through a Bruise

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

I’m still feeling the effects of that fall I had a week ago. I’ve got the biggest bruise on my hip that I’ve ever had, and it was quite painful to start with. However, one nice aspect of our sport is that it seems to help in recovery from these kinds of injuries.

The crash was odd in that I wasn’t moving all that fast. In fact, I was just slowing to make a turn when the rear wheel slid out from under me. But the full force of the impact fell on my left hip. I must have hit the pavement a lot harder than it first seemed, because two days after the crash, I had trouble rising from a chair. It felt like the whole left torso was bruised as well, although I could find no marks.

How did I treat the big bruise? It turns out that I did everything wrong. The recommended treatment for a bruise is to stretch and ice the affected area after the workout. In my case, I felt so good after riding this week that I did nothing except shower. For pain, acetaminophen is the recommended treatment — not ibuprofen. I gobbled ibuprofen two or three times a day.

Sitting for awhile, while watching TV, exacerbated the pain. Moving eased it. Except for Sunday, the day after the crash, I have been on the bike every day — sometimes pushing myself to climb a small hill a little bit faster, or do some intervals. Without fail, I felt better once I got home.

In one regard, I was lucky. I wasn’t bruised anywhere that came into contact with the bike. So when I ride, I feel like a normal person. It’s only after I’ve been stationary for an hour or more that pain becomes a problem.

Bruises heal themselves in seven to 10 days. My bruise is still impressive, in terms of the area it covers, but I can tell the coloring is already starting to fade. I expect to be back to normal in another couple of days. But in the meantime, I think I’ve healed a little faster by exercising those muscles under the bruise than I would have if I’d done nothing.

Biker’s Elbow

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with some minor pain. It started on the LBJ 100 ride, I think. The day after the hilly metric century, I experienced some soreness in my left elbow when I went out for an easy recovery ride. It’s not a big deal, but it is a noticeable twinge.

I thought it might have something to do with the way I held my arms during the long ride. Maybe I was pushing the elbows too far out for help on the hills. I noticed that if I kept my elbows in, the soreness went away.

I hadn’t realized it before, but I have Biker’s Elbow. No, although I capitalized it, that’s not its real name. It’s called “lateral epicondylitis.” You might know it better as “tennis elbow.” The American Association for Hand Surgery (Yes, it’s a real organization) says despite the name, most people who have tennis elbow have never played tennis. And if you want to get into the medical minutia, lateral epicondylitis is considered a form of tendonitis — but it isn’t really, because it doesn’t involve inflammation. It’s considered more a mechanical problem related to degeneration of the tendon that passes over a bony protrusion on the elbow.

What causes it? Repetitive motion. Any activities that repeatedly stress the same forearm muscles can cause symptoms, according to the orthopedic-oriented website, Orthogate. So besides swinging a tennis racquet, such things as running a chain saw, or using a paint roller can have similar results.

Now, cyclists don’t repeat motions much. Their hands are mostly on the brake hoods or in the drops. But it turns out that gripping can cause the same kinds of pain. Again, according to Orthogate, “When you bend your wrist back or grip with your hand, the wrist extensor muscles contract. The contracting muscles pull on the extensor tendon. The forces that pull on these tendons can build when you grip things.”

Treatment is simple in simple cases like mine: rest. (Duh.) Aspirin or ibuprofen should help. If it’s more serious, you’d better be talking to a doctor, because then treatment will involve everything from stretching exercises to physical therapy to, in extreme cases, surgery. Most disturbing was this advice from the Hand Surgery website: “It is recommended that activities that aggravate the symptoms are limited.” What, no biking? No way!

Since the LBJ ride, I’ve felt that twinge in my elbow on every ride. But on every ride there’s less of it. On today’s after-work quick 15 miles, I felt it once, moved my arm a little bit, and didn’t feel it any more. Knock wood, but I think the situation is under control. But you can be sure that I’ll be very aware of how tightly I grip the handlebars from here on out.