It is all about bikes. Riding them and dreaming about them. But what if you can only do the latter because you’ve been side lined by injury. Riding bikes is supposed to be fun and awesome and the one thing that keeps your daily troubles away. Suddenly it becomes the daily trouble and consumes all of your time and energy. But you can’t really talk about it, because bikes is supposed to be about unicorns, butterflies and rainbows and not about a train wreck that moans and cries all the time. However, after two years of dealing with an on-going injury I have come to realise: it is okay to head butt the wall from time to time. It is okay to complain. So instead of writing about the most amazing bike trip I have been on, or the latest adventure my bike and I have had, I will tell you my slightly dark and twisted injury story. Hopefully I can help someone else in a similar position or just simply shed some light on the dark injured side of life.
I have been dealing with a pain on the inside of my left knee for the past two years. It’s been a constant energy drainer – I have been on and off the bike and I stopped riding for almost eight months at one point. I don’t even know how many physios, chiropractors and doctors I have seen. I’ve lost count of the different diagnosis, the different treatments and methods. I can’t even keep apart the many MRIs and scans I have done. I have been doing rehab at 5.30 am before work and then at 7 pm again after work, running off for treatments during lunch hour, spending my free evenings researching different doctors and treatments to try and find the good ones (turns out there are a lot less capable sports injury physios out there than Google claims), all whilst trying to keep a cheerleader-smile on my face: “Oh this knee injury? Ah, it is nothing. It is just a small bump in the road. Nothing I can’t handle”, just to go home after another failed treatment and break down in tears.
When riding bikes is the one thing you want to do and you can’t do it... it sucks. Big time. And you know what? I have come to realise that it is okay to be sad. It is even okay to moan about it, and I will tell you why. For me things didn’t turn for the better until I finally started telling people about how unhappy this whole injury thing made me. If it was because I was finally able to let all of the anger and pain out, or simply that I felt the love and support from friends, family and others, I’m not sure. But after showing my real “negative” side, things started to feel easier, I could see things more clearly and I eventually got into contact with people who could actually help me with my injury.
People will tell you that happy thoughts lead to a happy body, and yes, that is probably true. But it is hard to be happy when your struggling with something that makes you really sad. It mostly ends up with you pretending to be happy and putting on a brave face, hoping that maybe, just maybe, you can fool yourself into believing it as well. But if I have learned one thing from the last two years it is that pretending to be happy doesn’t make you happy.
The never-ending story
I’ll give you the short version since not even I can be sure to remember all the doctors, physios and treatments by now. It all started in August 2014 with a weird discomfort on the inside of my left knee when I was out pedalling. I thought it was nothing, but the same pain came back the next time, and the time after that. It wasn’t that bad really so I decided to finish the two last races of the season before seeking help. I went to a physio and got treatment and rehab exercises. I didn’t feel any different after a month of treatment so I decided to change and go to someone who had more experience with bikers. I had treatment from him for almost two months. Nothing changed. I went to New Zealand on a, since long, planned riding holiday but after three weeks my knee hurt so badly I had to stop riding for a whole month. I went to see a new physio and sports doctor down there whilst my boyfriend and friends were off heli-biking. You can imagine how stoked on life I was by then. I came home to Sweden and started up with a new physio and a new treatment. I did a bike check to make sure I sat correctly on the bike. I started riding my bike again and did a few races until it hurt so badly I had to stop... again. I saw a new physio and, although I kind of realized that he was a joke from the start, I gave him a month (in case I was wrong about him), but it didn’t help.
Every physio and doctor had his own guess about what the problem was and how to deal with it. I had acupuncture, dry needling, shock wave treatment, two cortisone shots and a long list of rehab exercises. I did all of them notoriously. I bought foam rollers and roller balls. I believed in every single rehab treatment I got. When something takes up so much of your time, you have to believe that it is working. On the downside, since I believed in it so much, I also crashed so hard when it didn’t work. The mental game was worse then the pain and the endless, time consuming (and incredibly boring) rehab exercises. I was physically and mentally drained. I would break down for the tiniest mishaps.
The turning point
Then I gave in to the dark side and started complaining for real. Out loud. I felt like the most negative person in the world. But people listened and responded – friends, colleagues and even unknown people on social media. Eventually I was referred to some bike experts in the UK and they quickly figured out what it was – hamstring tendonitis. It is actually quite common for bikers, especially women. It was such a relief. I started an intense rehab and strength program – two one hour session a day, six times a week as well as one hour treatment each week.
They said I would probably be back on the bike within two months. But two months turned into three, four and five months. I was definitely getting better, but not 100 percent well. Eventually I stumbled across an amazing sports masseuse in Stockholm and, being true to my new complaining-out-loud nature, I told her my story and how I thought that something was still wrong with my body. She sent me to the best chiropractor she knew, and it turned out, he would be the big change in my recovery. He found that my hips were completely rotated as well as my left foot. As soon as he straightened me up, the rehab exercises and massage treatments suddenly worked a lot better. Today I can ride my bike again. I still have troubles and occasional pain. I still have to do rehab every other day and I can’t ride as long or as fast as I’d like to, but I am getting better with each day and I am back on two wheels.
“Just deal with it”
So many times I have heard through out this injury “Just deal with it”, or “It can’t be that bad”. I have even had doctors tell me that “you probably just have to live with the pain” and physios telling me that I “should probably quit this biking thing”. Looking back I can’t even believe some of the things I have been told, and how much they have hurt. In my case, all I needed was to get straightened out, get rid of the tendonitis and work on my hamstring and glut strength. I don’t – and shouldn’t - have to live with the pain. So the bottom line is, if you are injured or in pain, don’t give up on finding the right treatment. You might find the right treatment on the first try, or it may take up ten goes, but someone out there can help. All you need is determination. Also, don’t feel bad for being a grumpy bitch from time to time. Injury sucks and it will make you angry and sad. It will take up a lot of your physical and mental energy. We can’t all be Super Woman and Miss Sunshine at the same time.
So for all you injured bike riders out there, here are some things that I’ve learned along the way.
• Check it out: As soon as something starts hurting, go check it out and treat it before it becomes something larger than life. Spending three weeks not riding your bike might seem like the worst thing ever, but it is a lot shorter than two years.
• Believe in the treatment: What ever the physio or doctor tells you to do - do it! Even if it twice a day, six days a week. If it works then that is awesome. If it doesn’t, then you can at least cross that treatment of your list and move on to the next one.
• Talk about it: If you talk about it you might find someone in the same situation or with the same injury as you who can help. Also, negative thoughts doesn’t help heal your body and getting them out of your system might be just what’s needed. It was for me.
• Keep going and never give up: I’m still not 100% well but I am finally on the right track. It only took two years and over 12 different physios, doctors and chiropractors - and a lot of disappointments along the way.
After finishing this post, I am going to go pack my bags and head over to Whistler, Canada. My first proper bike trip since I stopped riding cause of the injury last July. I won’t be able to ride as hard or as much as I might want to, but I am going to ride my bike, with amazing friends, down fast and flowy Canadian singletrack. I couldn’t be more stoked. So you see, all bike stories don’t have to be about unicorns, butterflies and rainbows – they can also be about train wrecks finding their way back on track.
Various images: Johan Haag