Supporting the body through tough times

A story about natural healing versus surgery  

We were on the home stretch to Christmas when my four-year-old insisted I join him for a round of ‘fire balls’ on the trampoline, a game in which we ‘dodge’ the balls until inevitably one touches a leg and is thrown to tag the opponent.

Accidents happen when we least expect.   Bang!  My left foot caught a ball and rolled forward.  Losing my balance, I keeled over to my right, my left leg resembling a zig zag road sign.

Desperately, I clung on to my kneecap for fear it was going to slip off in the same direction as my leg.   A split second later, my partner would’ve slipped out the door but thankfully, I’d caught him mid-way with my cries.

“Call the ambulance”, I yelled, my voice catching and shaking as the shock hit.  I felt desperate for pain relief.  Was my kneecap broken?  I was handed a device that looked like a large whistle (Penthrox).  My ragged breaths were flailing.  “Keep breathing in and out” the paramedic instructed. “It will help ease the pain.”

An examination, X-ray and a few hours of waiting later, I was relieved to hear that my limbs were intact.  Heading back home with a simple crutch, I felt light-hearted, gracious even.  I’d witnessed people worse off than me that Saturday night. Limping out those hospital doors, I appreciated the Doctor’s fair and careful attention to my injury and his leave pass for home.

The next day, the seriousness of my injury dawned.  My poor old ‘puffer fish’ knee was awkward.  Getting in and out of bed and navigating stairs were a hassle.  No more bending or kneeling to help the kids and walking to school was out.  My energetic son was warned each time he made a beeline for me for fear he’d trip!   My hands were, quite literally full, juggling crutches as well as the regular paraphernalia of bags and shoes.   Rice, rice and more rice (rest, ice, compression and elevation) put me out of action for the entire weekend (and frankly, were a great excuse to read on the couch and do nothing)!

Unfortunately, when Monday rolled around, I realised that my motherhood duties persisted.

MCL sprain.  Now what?

An ultrasound confirmed a medium grade sprain of the medial collateral ligament (a support ligament that runs along the inner side of the knee).  Initially cheered by my physiotherapist’s assessment of a ‘grade two’ injury that would take around six weeks to heal, my enthusiasm dampened as weekly progress was zilch.

I was referred to a knee specialist who immediately ordered an MRI scan.  What a revelation!  A large cyst had taken up camp near the ‘suprapatellar fat pad’ and there was extra fluid (oedema) around the bone marrow.   Clearly, my knee needed some extra help.

From the surgeon’s perspective, the recommended option was to put a claim through ACC for key-hole surgery to remove the cyst and fluid, requiring a general anaesthetic and about 10 days’ off work and childcare.   Leave it untreated and I run the risk of calcification with possible osteo-arthritis later in life.  My mind replayed those parting words, spoken with the confidence of many years’ experience.  “It won’t repair itself.”

Jumping from trampoline into surgery…or not

Surgical treatment plays an integral part in healthcare and is often the sole or best option.  Aside from being mainstream and demanding a high level of skill and experience, it’s quick, quantifiable and tested.  What’s more, the public system is free and in my case, private surgical treatment would be covered by ACC.

There’s a big ‘but’ though.  In non-acute cases, is surgical intervention always the best and only solution?  Allowing the body to be put to sleep artificially, to place complete control of our bodily function into the hands of someone else, albeit a highly skilled professional, to me is unsettling.

Like wellness in general, knowledge and popularity of alternative treatments continues to grow.  Although untested to the masses, many practitioners cite miraculous results as to how their methodology has supported the body to heal itself.  The trick is finding the right one!

I’ve decided I have a couple of months left up my sleeve.  Surgery is booked in after the next school holidays.  With a self-imposed deadline set for natural recovery, I now have all the motivation I need to get cracking on my own healing.

Blood, bowen and bentonite clay

In the last month, I’ve set out in some unchartered territory.  It starts with my least favourite sight.  Blood.

My first round of treatments were three sessions of lymphatic drainage.  This is a form of vibration therapy which dramatically increases blood circulation, helping to ‘sweep out’ toxins via the lymphatic system and promote healing.  Sitting in a comfy chair with seat and back pads and a ‘wand’ to direct blood circulation around my knee, I felt the heat of my circulation ‘rev up’, followed by a little itching incited by the healing.   After the treatments, I felt revitalised but still unable to complete one rotation on the bike.

A week and a half later, I tried acupuncture, funded by ACC.  The acupuncturist inserted strategically placed needles from the top of my leg to the bottom, concentrating on the knee area.  With each treatment, he slowly built up to my ‘ouch’ threshold, allowing him to insert the needles slightly deeper each time.  This wasn’t too painful, but the true test was in ‘blood cupping’.

A small cup was placed on different areas of my knee, suction applied and the skin colour assessed.  A good deal of redness indicates the opportunity to remove stagnant blood under the surface.  A small needle pricked my skin multiple times, producing a slight stinging sensation before the cup was re-applied.  A successful cupping ended with dark purplish dots blotting the skin, indicating removal of clotted or ‘old’ blood.  After just one treatment, I was able to perform a complete cycle rotation.  Voila!  As our third session concluded today, we hit the ‘jackpot’, removing thick and stringy blood from the main cyst site, nestled within the fat pad area.

The acupuncturist has healed many sprains with blood cupping.  He assessed a hip imbalance as the root cause of my injury, not the knee.  “I can treat the knee, but if you don’t heal this, he said, pointing to my hip, your knee problem will probably come back.”  The physical demands of motherhood – and possibly running around without any form of postural regime – has left one hip out of kilter.   Hips are so important to defining our physical strength and posture, I wish I’d sought out an Osteopath sooner!

To conclude my course of alternative treatments, I’m talking with a Bowen therapist who has experience in re-balancing the muscles around the hip area, which in turn could benefit the knee and, together with home-based exercises, prevent reoccurrence of the injury.

The bentonite clay?  Bentonite is having a resurgence.  Touted as a healing clay that cleanses the body, I’ve been using it as an evening poultice to draw out the toxins around my knee area prior to having acupuncture.   Making a poultice involves mixing the clay with warm water to form a thick paste, spreading it over the entire knee area and wrapping it in a light bandage dressing.  Leaving the clay on overnight allows it to set and draw out impurities.  One morning, after washing off the hardened clay, I noticed a pocket of liquid had formed at the base of the inside of my knee.  Perhaps the clay had drawn out some of the trapped liquid.

Healing takes time

As a Mum, I’ve heard (and sometimes felt) that many of our daily tasks are thankless.  If our bodies could talk, perhaps they’d say the same.  My injury has highlighted just how much we take our bodies for granted.   Appreciation (and a little patience) can work wonders!

The body wants and tries to return to homeostasis.  I’ve set my mind to healing naturally and I’m encouraged by my progress.  It’s interesting that when commit to an outcome, the supporting evidence takes care of itself!

If I end up sitting all gowned up in that surgery waiting room, I want to take comfort from the fact that my body had the chance to step up.

Having any form of injury or illness is tough.  Each of our bodies is equipped with its own innate intelligence.  Regardless of age, size or appearance, it deserves to be supported and appreciated for the myraid of daily miracles it performs…just as much as we do!