Pain is Frustrating. However…

As an athlete and as a climber, nothing is more frustrating than when I am limited from going all out. I’m only 23, but apparently I’m old enough to have had knee problems for almost half my life. It’s something that I’ve come to struggle with not only physically, but also mentally.  There are times when I would rather try to push through and endure a physical pain than have to think about proper precautions, as if to say that the presence of pain is better than absence. Well, case in point – it isn’t.

Before Baylor and my discovery of rock climbing, I grew up playing a lot of basketball and volleyball (my knees were doomed from the start). I remember one instance in particular during an away game my senior year of high school. About halfway through the match my knees were hurting so bad while I was on the court that I almost started crying. But as it goes, that isn’t what varsity athletes do; they play through it acting like nothing is the matter.

As if the worsening patellar femoral pain (a.k.a. “runner’s knee”) wasn’t enough, the summer after my freshman year at of college, I burst my bursa sac while climbing (note that aside from, golf, this the least contact sport I’ve ever tried). For your educational purposes and mine, the bursa sac is located between bones and tendons, and is filled with synovial fluid that helps cushion and lubricate joint movements. Bursitis can either develop over time like runner’s knee, or in my case happen with severe, blunt trauma that requires a splint to be made out of t-shirts and spiral notebooks, followed by a trip to an Urgent Care.

I’ve had my share of knee complications, and it’s something that I’ve come to struggle with not only physically, but also mentally. As an athlete and a climber, nothing is more frustrating at times than when I am limited from going all out. Thankfully, college helped me mature with the thought process I use when I encounter such instances.

Don’t get me wrong; I hate having to take time off. It frustrates me and I get agitated and want to scream because by the end of the day there is a great ball of energy that I haven’t burned off.


However, there is a time and a place for everything, and there are times that are necessary to let the body recuperate, whether it be from letting the muscles recover from DOMS, experiencing an injury (there is a difference between that kind of hurt being sore), or simply a lack of performance from over-training, because it is such a thing.

Not only is it important to let an injury heal to prevent further damage, and potentially irreversible complications, it is also important to recognize when your body is simply being over-trained. It’s easy to be unaware of this when you mix high motivation (which is never a bad thing) with high levels of exercise intensity, duration, and frequency. A few of the symptoms I experienced during a time of over-training were:

Decline in physical performance (i.e. couldn’t climb at my hardest level)

Muscle tenderness

Increased number of minor injuries

Loss of motivation to exercise

Loss of maximal working capacity

Suppressed normal immune system functioning

There are others, but these are just some of the ones I felt. The one that caught my attention the most was the decline in physical performance; it’s also the one I noticed first. Whatever the situation is that requires time off, it does require patience, adaptation, and the knowledge that it is for the better. Though it often comes with a mental block that requires hurdling, most of the time an injury doesn’t mean that other areas of the body still cannot be worked. While I was on my most recent forced sabbatical, I used the time away from climbing to improve my cardiorespiratory endurance. I ran…a lot (that was a love time with running, then I started climbing again). If I’m off simply to rest my body I may focus on flexibility and stability (or sleep). If the situation is reversed and you find your foot in a boot, this doesn’t mean you have to ignore that abdomen or upper body. Besides, girls, guys like toned shoulders, and if you’re from the south, you know that sundress season is right around the corner 😉

I feel fortunate that I can say I know my body well enough to understand what is going to keep me moving forward and when I need to not be above saying “I need to stop for now.” Two summers ago I did consent to seeing a physical therapist. I don’t think that my knees will ever be in a complete absence of pain, but when I am consistent in doing the strengthening exercise my PT gave me the difference lends itself to a lot more freedom in my ability to work my lower body. I also always have to put things in perspective. In addition to preparing for my personal trainer workshop, I am taking a medical terminology class right now, and there are about a thousand and one other complications that I am fortunate to not have. That being said, I will take RICE and proper care over a hospital bed any day.


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