Adjusting to a New Reality

I’m writing this from my couch with ice packs on my knees because I just got home from my dance lesson, and icing my knees is what I do now after lessons and workouts. I did the same last night after I went to my first Zumba class since overdoing it at the Zumbathon. It was annoying and a little depressing how much I held myself back and still came home with sore, achy knees.

In other annoying and a little depressing news, I’ve cut down to one lesson a week again. It’s just for a few weeks, but still, that means I won’t be prepared in time for Beach Bash. I’m shifting my focus to Emerald Ball at the end of April, which gives me a few extra weeks. It may still end up being too soon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still aim for it!

I’ll admit that I’m having some difficulty adjusting to my current reality. It’s still early to judge whether it’s temporary or not, but it’s frustrating and disrupting to be confronted with a limit that I can’t just work hard to overcome. I’m the kind of girl who, when she’s told she can’t do something, is motivated to work even harder to do it. But I can’t just “work harder” to overcome my knee issues. In fact, working harder could make them worse!

Just now as I wrote those last two sentences, the obvious answer came to me. I shouldn’t work harder, I should work smarter. See, this is why I blog about these things, you guys! It’s not just to entertain and inspire you; it’s to help me sort out problems.

Honestly, a lot of the work is mental. Seeing the x-rays of my knees and having the doctor point out the clear signs of wear on the bones threw me. I was suddenly acutely aware of why my knees were cracking/popping and it felt like they were catching on something. Oh, that sharp edge at the back of my patella, that’s what they’re catching on! Oy vey.

I already mentioned the other thing that’s thrown me – a physical limit I can’t just push past. I loved going full-out in Zumba class, jumping high, squatting low, and everything in between. It was great stress relief and a great cardio workout. But last night, even in the first song, I could tell I wouldn’t be able to go full out. I would have to hold back on the jumping and be careful everywhere else. I didn’t get as out of breath or sweaty, my heart rate didn’t get as high, and I felt a little disappointed. It was still a fun class, but it left me wanting more. And yet, my knees were already at the point where more could be overdoing it.

The Burn program was a great example of me meeting my physical limit and then working past it. It was a more intense workout than I’ve ever done before, but as the weeks went by, I grew stronger and the workouts became more doable. The results were incredible! Incredible in all ways except for my knees. It was apparently beyond the limits of my knees and my knees did not step up to the challenge and grow stronger like the rest of my body.

So of course, armed with new, albeit incomplete, information from the orthopedist, my brain starts asking questions that don’t have clear answers, if any at all. Do I just need to give my knees more time to recover, or is this how it’s going to be moving forward? What does this mean for my dancing? How do I find the balance between staying active in things I enjoy and not further damaging my knee joints? Is there a balance? What about the rest of my joints? My joints have always been talkative. Is this the first of more limitations to come?

So much of adjusting to this new reality is really just sorting through the anxious thoughts bouncing around my head. My knees have been wearing away for years, decades probably (considering my knees used to ache so badly in high school, I wore knee aces almost every day). Even in my first days in ballroom, my knees would ache and turn red after just a Waltz group class. I’ve come home from Zumba with achy knees before.

Yes, the ache is more frequent and more easily triggered now, but it’s really only been about a week and a half since I overdid it at Zumbathon, and in that week and a half, I’ve had two dance lessons and another Zumba class. So it hasn’t exactly been that long and I haven’t exactly 100% rested my joints.

It’s more the new knowledge of the state of my knees that’s creating the most disruption. Funny thing is when the orthopedist said I have chondromalacia patella, I recognized the phrase. One of the doctors I saw about my knees in high school said my pain could be due to chondromalacia, but he wasn’t very sure and we didn’t do scans or anything of my knees, so I just kinda went on with my life. My knees didn’t hurt as much in college, and at some point, they stopped bothering me all of the time. So it felt like I grew out of it (that was another doctor’s theory – the bones grew faster than the supporting tissues). But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what my knees looked like on x-ray back then?

I imagine my knees were cool with my average day-to-day lifestyle and then when I started ballroom dancing, they looked at each other with raised eyebrows and thought, “we’ll just give her a couple warnings.” Then when I started doing Burn, they said, “Ok, lady, listen up! Time to pay attention!”

I’m paying attention, and as I finally put into words above, I’m going to work smarter instead of harder to address this apparent limitation. I already started looking at adjustments I can make to my nutrition to be more joint-friendly. I got advice from a second doctor on how I can judge where that line is between getting in a good workout and overdoing it. As you know, I’m following doctor’s orders and icing my knees after my lessons and workouts.

My problem is I’m not very patient and I don’t like not knowing. So needing to “wait and see” how my knees do with less workouts and less intensity is like being stuck in purgatory. How long do I need to wait? What am I looking for?

I know there are a LOT of dancers out there with far worse knee problems than mine, so part of me feels like I need to just get over myself and be grateful I don’t need surgery or immediate physical therapy. Another part of me wants to cross my arms, pout, and tell that first part to shut up because this sucks. The dominant part of me is breathing through the anxiousness and telling everyone we’re just going to take this one day at a time and enjoy what we can still do. Tonight’s lesson, for example, went really well!

We worked on the Open Tango routine and played with some parts to make them more impactful. You know Teacher and I have a good connection when we haven’t talked since last week, but we both came into the studio today wanting to work on Tango. Knees ached a little but not as bad as last night after Zumba. I suspect that my increased awareness of their issues is also enhancing my perception of their pain. Thankfully, Tango was not affected, and since we weren’t dancing full out, I didn’t feel like I was holding back if I didn’t lunge as deep as I might at a competition.

Even as I’m adjusting to the new idea that I’m “limited” in some way, I’m also ready to find a way to prove it wrong. I told you, I don’t like being told I can’t do something. Maybe I just need to do it differently than I did it before.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.


13 thoughts on “Adjusting to a New Reality

  1. BCBallroomdancer says:

    I hope to see you at Emerald (although we are on different days)! Sorry to hear about your knees and can absolutely relate. Knee pain has been a constant for me since a bad fall during training in 2007. Its been up and down. What height shoes are you wearing for practice? lowering even a little can provide some rest for knees, even temporarily.
    I’ve done the icing every day routine and the voltaren and rest and it does suck! I hope its a temporary thing for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie Elliott says:

    Last summer, I was diagnosed with a torn meniscus and a strained medial collateral ligament. Fortunately, surgery was not recommended, but PT was. My orthopedist recommended an excellent therapist who had experience with dance, and I saw her twice a week through the remainder of the summer up to a comp in Boston in September. The exercises she gave me shifted the work of my legs from my knees to my hips, and they made a huge difference in my knee pain and subsequently in my dancing. I know your knee pain stems from a different source, but if you can find a good dance PT, it might help. Best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      That’s awesome! It’s so valuable to know the proper way to move so you don’t cause unnecessary strain. It’s definitely in the back of my mind – even if the ortho said it wasn’t necessary, a PT would be a great person to have on my team.


  3. Ally says:

    I really relate to this post. I’ve been dealing with patellofemoral pain syndrome. It’s been a challenge finding the balance between pushing myself (so I’m growing and improving) but not pushing too far (and risking reinjury and recovery). It can be frustrating because I want to be able to dance as much as possible (classes or practice). But I’d rather dance less (on a regular basis) than have to take a break because of an injury. I hope you can figure out something that works for you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      Right there with you! It’s finding that balance. As far as identifying the point where I risk overdoing it, I was told to compare to the worst my knees have felt (like after the zumbathon) and if I feel like I’m hitting about 50% of that pain during a workout or something, it’s a good time to back off.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Babs says:

    This is hard, I do know, as we’ve discussed my issues. At least in my case, I’m a “few” years older than you, so this much come as a shock to you, despite those earlier warnings. I can understand what a gut punch this is. How DARE our bodies do this to us!

    Allow yourself time to come to grips with this, as the reality is, this is something that will have an impact on you. But it may not be as big as you currently think. You’re dealing with the initial shock, disappointment and fear. But getting another opinion, a treatment plan and possibly some PT could help. It’s easy to think we can power through things, but we often make it worse. Find a trusted expert to help guide you through this. Right now those intense exercises with your knees may be out of the picture, but the operative phrase is “right now”. A therapist may find ways to strengthen the knee joint area without adding undue stress to the patella.


    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      You nailed it, Babs! This is definitely an adjustment period where I’m processing the initial “shock” of this new information. Not giving up but I definitely have a little girl inside me wanting to throw a tantrum around the injustice of it all, haha.


  5. wookiemonsterparallel says:

    Loathe as I am to use WebMD, I will say that these exercises might help…

    I was having patellofemoral pain about a year and a half ago after pinching the plica on my right knee, and after physical therapy, I had my little list of isometric exercises to do. They help.

    The other thing that helps is taking magnesium supplements (500mg/day).

    Hang in there, and good luck! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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