My Painful Realization

There is a part of me that holds the power to define the rest of my life. I made the connection a few months ago. It was a powerful abstract fact that made me stop and think. However, 2 months ago, things got real.

See, 2 months ago I got hurt while exercising. Initially I thought it was extra soreness. I went a little harder than I normally do and that was a mistake on my part. I didn’t have any pain during that workout, but it all started in my knees about 24 hours later. It ebbed and flowed a bit for the first week after that work out. A week after the initial incident, I went to a festival that requires a lot of walking. The pain increased from there, followed by 10 days of crippled old man walking. It felt like there were shards of glass in my knees.

To many of you, this may sound like a simple sports injury. Heal it up and I’ll be good as new. It’s not so simple.

I had to quit sports as a teenager because of the pain in my joints. I picked the least impactful sport there is (swimming) and that was too much. Like most swimmers, the breast stroke kick was tough on my knees, but my shoulders would grind during freestyle, and my ankles would snap in and out of place as I kicked. I got in trouble during one dry workout because I couldn’t jump the stairs like I was supposed to.  I couldn’t do it because my knee was out. Not all the way out, like “hey, my foot is facing backwards” but enough that it made movement very painful. My whole team had to do memory sets because of me. Sorry team.

After seeing a long line of doctors, I was told that my joints are loose and that I should grow out of it. The way I describe it that makes most sense to me is to say that I was made with used parts. Everything works, but each joint has its own little quirks. My knees are in the worst shape. I have to pay attention to every step I take. Anything with a pivot is prime for pain. Getting out of a car, going up a stair case, stepping into the tub, or suddenly getting out of the way all take special consideration. It has gotten better since I was 15 when I had to quit sports altogether, but I haven’t grown out of it by any sense of the term.

What does this have to do with personal finance? Everything

This recent bout is the most significant knee pain I’ve had in 8 years. I was concerned that I’d done some serious damage. Even if I hadn’t done a lot of damage, the most adult thing for me to do is get this all checked out. With the amount of grinding and small dislocations I’ve had over the years, I know my knees are not in great shape.

What does this mean?

Short term:

This could be expensive. I had an appointment with a specialists who took X-rays. Thankfully, the x-rays didn’t show anything alarming. There is no obvious damage from the X-ray, except that my knee joints are structurally messed up. #usedparts.

The Doc wanted to do an MRI to rule out a meniscus tear. If it was a meniscus tear, I’d need surgery.  At this point, I’m holding off. By the time I got in to see him, the pain was trending downward. My experience didn’t seem like a tear. There was no traumatic event and there was no swelling. Perhaps an inflamed meniscus, but not a tear. If the pain flares up again, I’ll get an MRI.

Going to the doctor was a great first step in figuring out what the heck is going on with my knees. I need to take my joint situation seriously. So far I’m out ~$400 here.

Medium term:

One of the main things I took away from my meeting with the Doc is that I can’t run anymore. Mainly because he specifically told me, “No more running.” For the month while I was limited by knee pain, I didn’t care. I couldn’t walk without pain. Being able to run was a pipe dream. Now I can walk again, so I have to fix as many knee problems as I can.

The first problem identified is the most obvious. I need to lose weight. My pain situation moved me losing weight from “Yea, I know I need to do something about  this” to THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!!” 

Did you know that every pound you weigh puts four pounds of pressure on your knees?

I need to give my knees the opportunity to function as well as they can. The best way to do that is take pressure off them and make them stronger. Thankfully, I already have most of this lined up. I signed up for personal training at my gym and I’m working to improve my eating.

I’ve been working with my trainer for 6 weeks and we had a bit of a knee revelation. On top of my knees being lose and unstructurally sound, my knees naturally collapse inward. This collapse makes my legs and glutes significantly weaker. When inflamed, weak legs and glutes cause significant knee pain. Awesome.

At the time, I was even more bummed that here was another factor working against me, but unlike the other pieces, I can change how strong my legs are.

This extra cost now is worth every penny if I can prevent greater costs later. Since just before the injury, I’ve relieved 28 pounds of pressure from my knees. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Long term:

This is my main motivation to save and live on less. However, I’m not sure if this means become financially independent ASAP or take some time off in the next few years to live it up while I can still get around. This is all dependent on how my pain and the condition of my joints advances.

It’s been difficult mentally to deal with crippling knee pain at age 28, but I am so thankful to have a wake up call now. The alternative was to wake up tat 58 when I’ve had both my hips and knees replaced and don’t have the money to escape.

One thing if for sure: I need to save for this.

I need to save for independence

I need to save for travel

and sadly,

I need to save for doctor visits. Thank goodness for HSAs. 

Has a medical issue changed your life view? 

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17 comments

  1. I know about this more than I would like. Exercise was a huge part of my life. I transitioned into powerlifting after my athletic days were over and loved doing that more than I could have imagined. In Jan 2014 I had surgery on my hip to repaire a labral tear from a preexisting injury. Its now 19 months later and in more discomfort than before. Dr visits (even several states away), injections, PT, etc.

    That life was unfortunately stripped away. It has given me an ubelievable appreciation for “your health is your wealth”. And im only 26!

    But I’ve learned alot in the process – especially financially. What would be worse than the mental and physical pain of an injury? Not having enough money (or worried about money) when deciding how to resolve the physical and mental pain.

    Best of luck!

    1. That sounds like a rough battle. Keep your chin up! Thankfully, I haven’t had any surgeries yet and my doctor involvement is minimal at this point.

      You hit the nail on the head. Having enough money in the bank is such a relief when issues come up. I’ve been maxing my HSA simply so when issues like this come up, I can deal with them instead of worrying how I’ll pay for it.

  2. Ooof, I’m sorry. For someone who doesn’t pay much attention to health (I rarely exercise, and I eat lots of butter and sugar) I’ve typically been remarkably healthy. I’m permanently intending to lose ten pounds, but other than that I rarely have much pain and my numbers are good. All of which is to say, I have a difficult time understanding what it means to deal with chronic pain, especially so young, but I’m really glad you’re taking steps to make the best of it that you can. I guess the good news is that replacing joints seems to be getting better all the time (source: my mom and her friends) and by the time you’re ready for that it should be even better. But yeah, good motivation to sock away $$ to make your life simpler and easier.

    1. Thanks C. Glad to hear you are so healthy!

      Chronic pain so young has been difficult to wrap my head around. I’ve been dealing with this since I was a kid and it’s amazing how quickly I forget how bad it hurts when my knees are good. Youthful pain amnesia or something like that.

      And, yes I’ve heard joint replacements are getting better. When my uncle was my age, they simply removed his meniscus as a fix for his knee pain. Bad move docs! Bad move!

  3. I have knee and joint problems as well, and had to stop running for a while too. It sucks, and I’m sorry that you’re going through this.
    More recently, within the last 5 years or so, I’ve started to have a lot of issues with head/neck/shoulder stuff – migraines, pinched nerves, aches, pains, etc. After things got really bad, and stayed really bad for a while (I’m talking 6 week long headaches) and a doctor who was completely useless, I finally saw a chiropractor and discovered via Xray that my neck doesn’t have the natural curve in it. It’s | instead of ( which put tons of pressure on my spine. I regularly saw the chiropractor for about 2.5 years, and although my health benefits from work helped cover the cost, I still spent over $1500 out of pocket. That was difficult to afford on a $14 an hour job. But it was worth every single penny. Your health is CRITICAL so I hope money never holds you back from getting (and staying) well.

    1. So glad to hear you have your spine situation figured out! That sounds debilitating!

      And so far, I don’t think money has held me back from getting help. I may pursue cheaper options first, but I try never to ignore problems. The struggle I’m having now is whether the MRI is worth it. I don’t think my menisci are torn, but it could show what else is going on. But even if something else is going on, will my corrective path be any different? Probably not.

  4. Wow, sorry to hear about your joint issue. I’ve got some hypermobile joints as well, which has led to a lot of injuries over the years, but nothing like the pain you’re describing. I hope you can get some relief. And even though it’s more money out of pocket, get that MRI if at all possible. If it’s a meniscus issue and you don’t treat it, it can become untreatable over time, or hasten the need for a full knee replacement. I’m trying to hold off a hip replacement for another 10 years at the moment (I’m only 35, not 65!), and I’m open to just about any advice that will give the hip some more time!

    On the question of whether a health issue has hastened retirement planning, we completely feel that (http://ournextlife.com/2015/04/08/why-the-urgency-2/). I have a looming neuromuscular disability that could still pop up (so far so good), and I don’t intend to sit around and wait to find out if I’ll have it before retiring. And regardless of that, none of us know how many good years we have, and it’s the worst tragedy of all to waste our good years at the office, only to retire to poor health. Good for you for focusing on taking the best care of yourself and getting to FI as soon as possible. I hope you’re able to reach your weight loss goals — and just keep your body in tip top shape — without pain and injuries getting in your way.

    1. Your post was part of what got me thinking about all this. Most everything so far with me is structural.I have no idea how long my joints will keep me functioning, but I want to make use of what I have while I have it.

      I’m not well versed in hip pain. I had pretty horrible hip dislocations for about a year when I was at my highest weight. That equated to a year of limited mobility. That quite literally scared the food right out of my mouth. Since I took off those 40 pounds, I’ve been relatively pain free. So… lose weight and strengthen? 🙂

      1. Glad we got you thinking. 🙂 Some hip pain is a lot like knee pain, and strengthening helps. Mine is of the grinding variety, and the only thing that helps is avoiding movements that make it grind. But I saw what a hip replacement really entails at the BodyWorlds exhibit several years ago, and I have no desire to have the top third of my femur chopped off. So avoid the grinding it is! But for real, I hope your knees bother you less! Keep up the great work on your fitness goals!

  5. Bleh. I have two torn menisci. They don’t bother me, but I know if I don’t take care of them, they will.

    While I’m less than happy that both of my knees are torn, it is also motivation to lose weight to minimize the wear on the knees at take better care of myself.

    Sounds like you’re making the best of it. Sometimes bad things can lead us down a better path.

    1. Glad to hear they aren’t bothering you! My doc made a torn menisci sound very scary, but I was also in serious pain at the time.

      I try to make the best out of it. It’s been a lot worse than this recent bout, but its been a great reminder that I have a long way to go.

  6. Wow it is like deja vu. I’ve never had great joints and my right knee has been a problem since high school, but it and my left knee got way worse last summer to the point that I would wake up at night from the pain, now they got worse after a series of athletic events (marathon, various rugby injuries, not healing enough before 5k and 10k), but the fact that they continued to get worse after stopping stressed me out. X-rays and MRIs for both knees, I have a slight tear in my ACL(?) but not enough to worry about it, turns out my kneecaps were tracking wrong, apparently this isn’t totally uncommon, but it does tend to happen to women more. Three months of physical therapy (way cheaper than the possible surgery I was facing before they figured out what was wrong) to retrain my muscles and my knees were so much better. Though I have to keep up with doing pt at home to keep it that way, I feel it if I don’t. I too need to lose weight and in conjunction with building back up my physical fitness I just joined weight watchers again. Sadly I didn’t have an HSA last year, it was tough. I love my HSA this year, I didn’t even blink about having to pay to get a cavity filled this week. Now to save for lasik….

  7. Wow, that is a lot to deal with at such a young age. But it sounds like you are ready to take care of yourself but health-wise and financially. I think your best bet is to start saving now, make it part of your budget as you mention. Good luck with everything!

  8. Realizing physical limits is tough. I got very sick at age 19 and was left with debilitating fatigue. And it only took me most of a decade, lots of therapy and tons of nagging from my husband to finally accept and work within those limits.

    I’m sorry you can’t run any more, but as you know, this will be better for you in the long run.

    A word of advice: Check your trainer’s qualifications. Most of them have little to none. At the gym I used to visit, most of them had “Apex training” and maybe one other noted. Apex training is a 48-hour class.

    Most trainers are basically salesmen with some fitness knowledge. And if you’re working with an injury, you need to be very careful that the trainer knows how to set reasonable limits.

    Honestly, you may want to just get your doctor to prescribe physical therapy. That would set you up with some safe exercises that you can build on later.

    Otherwise, try to find a trainer who has a background in sports medicine if you can. (I lucked out with the one I used to use, so I don’t know how likely it is.)

    I’m sure you feel comfortable with the person you got assigned. But as this injury proves, you can feel fine and still be hurting yourself.

    My two cents.

    1. Sorry to hear about your fatigue. That sounds like a beast.

      I lucked out and my trainer has a degree in Sports Medicine and all the fancy certifications to go along with it. She’s been great about working with and around my issues so far. I’m just thankful not to be hobbling anymore.

      Thanks for dropping your two cents. I appreciate it.

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