A few months after first experiencing pain in both knees and a week after writing about what it had done to my fading basketball career, I finally made it to the doctor Tuesday. It rained much of the day in New York City, giving me something else to blame for the ache in my knees as I wandered to the subway.
I visited the same doctor I saw a year and a half ago with the same problem, although this time my knee actually hurt when I visited him in the office, decreasing the likelihood he thought I was faking the injury.
I didn’t know if X-rays or an MRI might be in order, although I figured they would be — how else would he diagnose the potentially life-altering injury that had affected both of my knees these past few months, both on and off the court? Even though he’s an orthopedic surgeon, I pictured him emailing the results to top knee specialists around the city, if not the country. If Dr. James Andrews was on a break from being bullied by Mike Shanahan about Robert Griffin III, perhaps he could offer an opinion or his hands for the future double-surgery.
Instead the diagnosis came within about a minute, shortly after the doctor felt the kneecap, moved my leg and made small talk.
“It’s patellofemoral pain syndrome,” he said, and my first question was about how to spell it. Only when I returned home did I discover the first part is a single word. Patellofemoral pain syndrome — PFPS for the layman — is a “syndrome characterized by pain or discomfort seemingly originating from the contact of the posterior surface of the patella (back of the kneecap) with the femur (thigh bone). It is the most frequently encountered diagnosis in sports medicine clinics.”
That’s from Wikipedia, not the doctor, although in a way it is. He told me to Google it and to check out some of the physical therapies used to help with it.
I still wondered what caused the pain. A week ago my uncle Jerry, a standout athlete in his younger days who’s now north of 50 and has suffered various afflictions to his once sturdy body, emailed me and wondered, gently, if perhaps the fact I was a bit heavier than I was in my younger days could be affecting my knees. I wanted to scoff but I had to admit it could be a possibility. The doctor confirmed Jerry’s speculation.
“What’s your BMI?” he asked and I had no idea. When I told him I was 6-3, 220-225 pounds — of pure-bred Minnesota muscle, I didn’t add — he said that wasn’t bad. For normal, everyday things it’d be fine. But on a basketball court, which is hard on knees as it is, much less ones in pain? It could be better. He also said 37 is not 27 and that I could stand to lose a few pounds simply because the extra weight puts pressure on the knee and if I dropped 10-15 pounds it would probably alleviate much of my suffering. He mentioned getting down to “two-hundo” but let’s not be absurd. I probably last saw 200 in 2000 and both are a long ways in the past.
So I’ll find a physical therapist and do some work with them and then get some exercises I can do at home. Building up the quads sounds like it’s the main thing. He also said I should stretch before playing basketball, a foreign concept to me. I can keep playing as well and a brace wouldn’t really help, he said, so I can avoid that old man accessory for a bit longer.
Rest is also obviously supposed to help and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t mean retiring. Dropping some pounds and picking up some physical therapy hints, that’s the remedy to the knees that ache even as I type this. The doctor mentioned a diet he’d done that could work for me — something about eating very little two days of the week and then eating anything you want the rest of the time.
When I told him I drank four or five sodas a day and that I’d always heard eliminating that from your diet could lead to a 15-pound weight loss in a year, his eyes widened.
“Well, yeah! Four or five? Really? Forget any diet. You get rid of that soda and you’ll be right where you need to be. Try some flavored Seltzer.”
I went in to the doctor fearing I’d have to give up hoops for awhile. I left fearing I’ll have to give up soda. Wait, doc, what was that diet you mentioned?