Sunday, June 29, 2008


On the New Year holidays before we moved into this house, we visited my mother-in-law and I climbed the mountain behind her house. I used to climb it often before our son was born 10 years ago, and it felt good to be doing it again, especially in the ankle-deep snow. That is, until I stood up after my lunch and found that my knees were very painful. Still, I pushed on up to the top whereupon I realized that the descent was going to be a bit of a killer.

But I'd had trouble with my knees climbing mountains before, and I figured it would pass as it always did. Well, that was when I was ten years younger, and I had no such luck this time. The right knee got better, but the left has ached and twinged ever since. It effectively put a stop to my habit of running up hill and down dale in the dark after work for 30 minutes.

I had it X-rayed - nothing to see. I tried acupuncture. That felt OK, but it was expensive, and it didn't really do anything. Then I tried Kinesio taping but this also was very expensive. And the 'doctor' had a little handheld jack-hammer thing which he discharged without warning into the part of my knee that I had indicated was tender. Had I been warned, I probably wouldn't have screamed in pain. But then I would also have declined that particular treatment. This is what I believe is known as 'informed consent'. You can see why people value it when they go for medical treatment. Anyway, the taping didn't work, although the 'doctor' kept saying "That feels better now, right?"

A doctor at a local clinic mentioned steroid injections, and recommended I not do it for reasons that are unclear. Then I suggested I was bored with having a duff knee and asked him what the 'aggressive' treatment might be in this case. "A steroid injection" was the reply. So I had one, and it didn't work.

Next I tried massage at two different local clinics. It actually seemed to make a difference for a while, and I even started running again, albeit for only 10 minutes on a flat course. But in the end, it didn't seem to work.

Other minor treatments that haven't worked include the application of electricity, ultrasound, infrared, and magic. I didn't really want the lady in question to try the magic, but I was too polite to refuse.

The next recommendation was either a course of hyaluronic acid injections or an MRI scan, followed by surgery. I've pretty much decided to try the hyaluronan treatment, but this Friday at lunchtime I saw a program about a newish sports treatment called "kaatsu training", or I suppose, "applied pressure training" in English. This involves constricting the blood vessels of the arms and legs before doing light exercise. This works the muscles harder and when the constriction is removed, the blood vessels increase in size, and beneficial hormones are sent to the tissues of the limbs. It seems to have a sound scientific basis, and it is also supposed to have helped bed-ridden old people get up and walk again. Apparently it's also used on racehorses. (But then arsenic used to be used on racehorses too, with famously unfortunate effects.)

Anyway, I found a place in Ehime that does kaatsu training, and went on Saturday morning. The youngish man who conducted it on a one-on-one session inspired confidence. He made no fantastic claims, and was pleasant and gentle. Having one's legs constricted actually felt good, and the exercise wasn't at all challenging. He said I had strong legs. But lifting a small dumbbell with my arms constricted ... hurt. Not too badly, but he suggested I try to put up with it since it was normal, so I did and it was OK. He said he thought I had weak arms.

Then he asked if I knew what chiropractic was. Rather insensitively, I said, "That's the therapy that people say has no scientific basis, isn't it?" He mildly assented that that was indeed said of chiropractic, but that he believed it was effective. I had images of violent, dangerous spine manipulations and was getting suspicious.

He asked if he might check out my alignment, and when I agreed, he stood me in front of a mirror and felt lightly up and down from my shoulders to my ankles. It struck me that no other practitioner had done this, and it seemed like a very obvious and necessary first step. Then he offered a further check lying down. After manipulating my ankles, he suggested I had twisted my left ankle badly at some point. Indeed, when I was about 16 I had jumped over a wall, caught my heel on top of it, and been immobilised for about a week. I immediately conceived considerable respect for this style of treatment. I asked him more about his chiropractic and he told me that he too distrusted the 'crick' methods, believing that they do incremental and permanent damage. He favoured careful stretching under the patient's own power.

I don't know yet whether the kaatsu training is going to work, but at least I'm confident that I've found a specialist worth his salt. Nothing he said or did put me off him, a first.

Now you may very well be wondering what this has to do with sustainability, the general topic of this blog. Well, if something goes wrong with your health, you can no longer sustain some of the activities that you did hitherto, and your general health begins to suffer. By not running, I lost a method of relieving stress and I gained weight. And in an effort to regain your health, you travel around more than you otherwise would, you use energy in various forms, whether electric or magical, and you consume a variety of medical products whose production methods you may not be overly pleased to learn about. And so finding the best method of treating your health issues has implications for sustainability, both of one's own lifestyle and the wider world. If kaatsu training and a little chiropractic turn out to work, I'll be very pleased as they're about as close as you can get to self-regenerative medicine.

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