From time to time we ask our readers for suggested topics. Coming back from a pickleball injury has been suggested many times. Here’s my story of how not to do it.
Leading Up to Total Knee Replacement
I, Nancy, started playing fast-pitch softball at a very young age. I am not sure of the exact age, but I think I was 8 or 9. I played several different positions, but mostly catcher. I loved catching because:
- Not many people wanted to wear all that gear, so no one competed with you for the job;
- The catcher is involved in every play;
- You are the field general.
I played in leagues as a youngster and an oldster. My last game was at 35. I broke my right hand interfering with the batter. [Permit me to share my moment of glory: I finished the game after instructing the pitcher she needed to pitch a no-hitter. She did. We won.] Frankly, I didn’t stop playing softball because of the injury. Instead, I was told to take up golf after the cast came off. “You can use golf in your medical computer sales career,” my manager explained. It was good advice. I loved golf and spent quite a bit of time “working” on the golf course.
Fast forward 20 years, and I have found pickleball. We are living in The Villages, the pickleball capital of the east coast, and I am playing on any day that ends with “y”. From time to time I had some knee pain…but just chalked it up to aging. Then one day, after lunging for a cross-court dink the pain was extreme in my left knee.
Pickleball Injury: Surgery #1
I took six weeks off…icing and using crutches to get around. After six weeks, the pain persisted and I went to see a doctor. A MRI showed several large tears that were displaced. Meniscus repair was recommended. While the surgeon was in there he noted how severely damaged the bone was and decided to also do something called micro-fracture surgery. This extended my recovery for at least six weeks, during which time I was on crutches full-time. [Note to reader: if you are over 40 and this is recommended to you …. run. It has been shown to not work on folks as they get older.]
Pickleball Injury: Procedure 2 & 3
After two months, the pain persisted. I could exist if I just sat around…but walking longer distances, hiking and pickleball caused a lot of pain. Frankly, both knees now hurt and the right knee was getting worse as time went by. The orthopedic surgeon who had performed the first procedure recommended Supartz injections. Some pickleball friends had had this, and it had extended their play for six months or more. Unfortunately, for me, the five injections did not provide any relief.
A local doctor started advertising stem cell and PRP injections as the cure for what ails you. Six weeks of injections and recovery, $5000 out of pocket…nada. I decided it was time to find a physician that didn’t have something to sell me.
Pickleball Injury: Bilateral Total Knee Replacement
It is now late 2014 and I decide to see a sports medicine doctor that doesn’t do surgery. He performed a manual 45-minute exam of my knees and gave me his impressions. In summary, “You have severe arthritic damage in both knees. You now also have a tear in the right knee. At your age, I wouldn’t recommend repair because your bone is so damaged it is just a matter of time. When you can’t bear the pain anymore, you need to have both knees replaced.” He also ordered various imaging studies…and the resulting report said the same thing.
There is an orthopedic surgeon in Orlando that has a stellar reputation…particularly among the aging athletes in The Villages. His lateral surgical approach speeds recovery and makes the rehabilitation process bearable. I begged him to do both knees at once because we had qualified for the National Senior Games in July. He consulted his calendar and said he couldn’t promise I would be ready. On February 14, 2015, he did a total knee replacement on both knees.
Pickleball Injury Recovery
Frankly, the weeks following the surgery I had less pain than I had experienced in the prior year. I was walking without a walker in three days. I rarely took the narcotic pain-killers prescribed because I didn’t need them. After six weeks I had completed physical therapy. After ten weeks, I was cleared to start practicing.
This is where the stupid part really begins. As I practiced, I experienced pain. It was May, the senior games were only two months away…and I had to practice. I told myself I was cleared to practice…so I just took the leftover pain-killers when I practiced. At the senior games, I played Women’s Doubles with Denise who is a better player than me. With a lob return of serve (to give me time to get to the line) and Denise running for everything, we made it through five or six rounds. Of course, I was taking medication before every game. I exceeded the daily maximum dose that day.
Four weeks later somehow I forgot what happened at the Senior Games. It was the national State Games of America. The women’s field was much smaller, and again Denise ran for everything. Somehow we got bronze. But by this time I am running out of Hydrocodone
Another Pickleball Injury
When I asked my surgeon for more Hydrocodone he refused. He ordered a 3 Phase Nuclear Scan and found that I had severely bruised the bone around the prosthetic. It seems that when he said I could practice and play he assumed if I had pain I would stop. (Oh that’s what he meant!) I was prescribed meds to help the bone regrow, and ordered to do nothing for six months. If I wanted to walk it needed to be in a pool. Otherwise, nothing!
Six months went by and I did feel better. But the first time I stepped on the pickleball court the pain returned. Over the past 18 months, I have had two liner replacement surgeries and tried various leg strengthening routines. I lost 15 pounds, so I am at my ideal weight. I am even meditating. I have seen other physicians, they have ordered other tests. I am taking a medication for persistent post-surgical nerve pain and it helps. But the bottom line is I can’t play pickleball.
I fully realize that my pickleball injury is not life-threatening. I realize many people my age have gone through a lot worse. Byron Freso comes to mind. I know we wrote about the inspiration I received from Venus Williams. But I just can’t do it anymore. Yes, I will probably attend a few tournaments to cheer Denise on. I can ref…though reffing for long periods can be tough.
But I frankly don’t want to play in pain. And though I know this is a huge personal shortcoming, playing like a beginner is more painful than not playing at all. I want to play as well as I used to…I want to compete.
I wish I was a better person…but I am not. I don’t see pickleball in my future. And thus we end this blog.
But Wait, There’s More
Up until about 10 days ago, we had decided to stop updating RVPicklers after this post. Since I, Nancy, do most of the writing…it was difficult to imagine continuing to write about a sport I loved but was no longer able to play. But as it turns out, one of the benefits of moving to the desert is being close to Barbara Wintroub. Barbara was kind enough to evaluate my knees and she thinks she can help me.