I have always been active and as I get older it has been hard to not stay as active, fit, etc. as I once was. I played collegiate soccer, worked with the women’s basketball team in college, played noon-time hoops, all after having played as many sports as I could as a child and through high school. Only late in high school did I start pairing down my athletic ventures going from three sports during an academic year to two thanks to the diagnosis of chronic patellar tendinitis in both of my knees.
I had that diagnosis for awhile, but it was becoming apparently clear to my doctors, the school’s athletic trainer(s), and thus to me that I was probably putting a little too much wear and tear on my body. Now, I was six-foot two-inches and weighed 150 pounds wet my senior year in high school. Not exactly a body type that prototypically wears on itself. I did love to play soccer, especially goalie, and baseball. I had played basketball, though it certainly wasn’t my strongest sport. During my middle school and early high school playing days I also had tennis on my list of sports and I practiced basketball and some of baseball on a rubber court at my hometown high school. It was a lot of athletics – but I loved it!
Only when I transferred to a private boarding school did my knee problems truly start slowing me down.
It wasn’t that hard to understand that patellar tendinitis was probably the root caused of my pain and discomfort late in a day. After practices my knees hurt. Practices were in the afternoon or evenings. And if a doctor did a tendinitis test, they could get me to come off the table by simply pressing on my patellas. Pretty obvious. So obvious, that I had to sit out part of my junior season of soccer under doctor’s orders (because the tendinitis wasn’t going away) and stop playing competitive basketball. I got to a point where I stopped complaining about the pain and just treated it so doctors or others couldn’t stop me from playing.
As I went on to college, the tendinitis didn’t go away – it was chronic after all – but I maintained icing my knees, taking ibuprofen, and resting them when it was appropriate. During my athletic life I wore knee braces, had physical therapy, and more to try and lessen the tendinitis. It was real and ended up causing me to miss my sophomore year of collegiate soccer because I ignored my legs and continued to try and play field positions despite the fact I was a better goalie and my legs couldn’t take the demand – I got cut instead. Ahead of my junior year, I worked out and played more soccer while at home and I came back in the best shape of my life – 20 pounds heavier and leg muscles to prove it. I also shifted my focus only to goalie. I was back on the team and loving it – despite the pain in my legs.
But the pain never went away when I got done playing soccer. My senior year I decided not to play because a) my academics really needed to be a focus and b) my body was wearing out. I was still playing basketball, but I wasn’t sprinting as much, I wasn’t practicing for two-hours-plus a day for months on end. But the leg pain… didn’t go away.
Even as I went on in my life and picked up playing softball and continued to play noon-time hoops, I didn’t pick up on the fact the pain and discomfort in my legs weren’t necessarily connected to my activities. The ibuprofen never made the pain go away and icing my knees was the most excruciating experience of my athletic life. Every. Single. Time. We will come back to this.
In reality and looking at things in hindsight – while I suffered from chronic patellar tendinitis, I am pretty sure I was also suffering from RLS and PLMD.
One of the other major factors was sleep. Throughout my early life, I have had to get up early in the morning. From age 11 until my early 20’s (with the later years being when I was at home), I did a morning paper route six days a week. I had to be up around 5am five of those days and I would struggle. Then when I went to prep school, I really started to struggle waking up because I was struggling mightily to go to sleep. This continued right into college and beyond. I could never get comfortable, I would usually experience pain in my legs, so unless I was exhausted I didn’t sleep well. That in turn meant I couldn’t get up even for early classes – I missed a lot of them or was barely functioning in the first place.
Of course, I thought my pain was tendinitis and one of the treatments was ice. The problem was until my legs were actual numb from the ice… I would go through pain. It could be 15 to 20 minutes of sheer pain. I just counted down the minutes while dealing with pain which on an index was pretty much a 9 out of 10. I read somewhere recently (but can’t find now) that ice can make RLS symptoms worse (while they can also help subside them with some people). Knowing what I know now… the pain and discomfort I experienced while icing my knees was what I feel with my RLS now but even worse.
I was quickly reminded of this fact while caring for my recently torn calf muscle. Every once in awhile the ice pack I would apply to my calf was especially cold and it would trigger the pain and discomfort that several times was too severe that I had to take the ice off to get relief.
So… can’t sleep, trouble waking, along with pain and discomfort in my legs since at least high school that cannot all be attributed to the tendinitis (which is localized around the patella, not usually radiating into other muscles and parts of my legs). I have probably suffered from RLS and PLMD for a very long time and everyone understandably was looking at my athletic life as the cause.
20 to 25 years. No idea. No clue. No treatment.
And that is also why I am sure my diagnosis of depression was obvious. Was I actually depressed? Not sure. But when you can’t sleep, you are in discomfort all of the time from what you think is a chronic athletic problem, and your life is being affected by it all… depression seems pretty obvious.
Next blog: Why the depression was probably just another masking symptom and diagnosis.