If you made it through my very long last post, you’ll know I went to see a woman about a knee.
More particularly, I went to see my physical therapist, Stephanie Thurmond, about my left knee, which is giving me grief. And I learned two new terms: arthrogenic inhibition and muscle fiber recruitment. I texted my husband these two new terms, which he helpfully defined as “Getting old and trying to get fit.”
The first bit, arthrogenic inhibition, is what I was referring to as “instability,” and it’s the part of the knee problem that had me wigging. Basically, because of the arthritic changes in my knee, and the weakness in part of my quadricep, when things got bad enough, my brain decided to shut down my entire quadricep. Boom. Apparently the experts aren’t sure why this happens. But it does, so if you’re having pain and all of a sudden a limb gives out on you, give it up. Your brain doesn’t want to cooperate. Go to an expert, find out what the problem is, and get some help.
What happened to me that got me to get help and stop putting off seeing the orthopedic surgeon and getting the MRI was simply taking a pot from the stove to the sink. I have a very small kitchen, so it wasn’t a long walk. But before I could get all the way to the sink, what I perceived as my knee giving out (which was actually my quadricep going on strike) made me wrench my ankle and hip a little trying to stay upright for another step. I was, not surprisingly, relieved this had not happened when I had something really heavy in my hands (and thankful that the pot was not hot).
There was no warning that I could sense. It just happened. Ever since, I’ve been a little jumpy it’ll happen again.
“Instability,” at least to doctors, refers instead to tendon weakness or injury. That does not appear to be my problem. Just age, weight and deconditioning.
The second bit, muscle fiber recruitment, is pretty much what it sounds like: you’re trying to recruit part of your muscle that’s not joined up with the rest of it. Apparently my inner quadricep doesn’t want to play with the rest of the muscle. It’s trying to be a hermit.
Interestingly, that failure of one part of the muscle to play along can be a result of isolation exercises, which are the antithesis of what CrossFit tries to do, at least according to Flex, a body-builder magazine. I love their teaser paragraph:
Conventional wisdom holds that different exercises should be applied to a muscle group from different angles for optimum development. Conventional wisdom, however, is notoriously unwise.
So the overall idea of trying to work muscles in a group is on target. But so was my husband: When you’re trying to get in shape when you’re old (and, I’d add, overweight), you may have developed some obstacles to getting there. My problem wasn’t doing isolation exercises; my problem was doing none.
Scaling down is a drag, since it feels like you’re going back instead of forwards. But it seems to be the same as rebreaking a leg that wasn’t set correctly: You’ve got to go back and fix the fundamental problem if you really want to improve over the long haul. I may not have as long a haul as I did when I was twenty, but there’s no reason to think I haven’t got some haul yet to go.
And, as always, I am not a doctor and not trying to play one online. Just sharing my experiences. YMMV.