My Hip Injury

I thought I’d share news on my hip, since so many people have asked for an update. I hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail with pain in my hip, which in retrospect was probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Doing any kind of extreme endurance sport requires a certain amount of stubbornness, and we learn to put up with a certain amount of pain, which is part of what you sign up for. I’ll never forget a phone call I got from my mother several hundred miles into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. “You must feel amazing, and in the best shape of your life.” She said. “I hurt basically all over,” was my reply.

Many hikers are familiar with “hiker hobble,” the strange gait that hikers acquire when they stroll around town or campsites due to various foot and leg pain. It’s comical because after an hour of rest, you would think by the way most hikers start limping around that they couldn’t conceivably walk more than a mile or two the next day. Yet they’ll be easily doing 20-30 milers day in and day out.

So, basically it’s tough for hikers to tell an injury from every-day pain. And even harder to tell a serious injury form one that just needs a couple weeks of rest. In my case, I looked back in my journal and found that on day 1 I complained about pain in my right hip. Not a good sign. But I wasn’t in pain for the whole hike. It definitely progressed and got worse and worse with the miles, and particularly bad when I stopped for a day.

Finally after the hike was over, I decided the best course of action was to rest for several months and hope that my injury would disappear on its own. It really never did. Even after two or three months, I couldn’t walk more than a mile or two without pain, and I would have pain at night too. Finally, I decided it was time to see an orthopedic surgeon. The post-trail depression was setting in because of lack of exercise and I was going bonkers.

A few weeks later, after an inconclusive initial visit with the surgeon, I found myself in the hospital having an MRI. The results stated “probable subtle partial tear of the anterior superior labrum”. So basically there is probably a small tear in the cartilage around my hip socket. Unfortunately the prognosis isn’t clear. No one remedy seems to solve this problem, but you can start with physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. If that doesn’t work, they can inject your joint with an anti-inflammatory which sometimes does the trick. Last of all, if everything else has failed, you can try arthroscopic surgery, where they simply scrape away flapping bits of cartilage. Surgery usually doesn’t help much, and is quite invasive. The surgeon didn’t recommend it (and if a surgeon doesn’t recommend surgery, that must really mean it’s a crap-shot, since usually they’re ready to jump on just about anything with a scalpel in hand)

The good news is that slowly, on its own, it seems like my hip is trying to heal. I don’t have as much pain as I did a few months ago, and I hardly ever have pain at night. I started physical therapy a week ago, and I’ve been very diligent about doing it. I also have an anti-inflammatory creme that I apply to my hip several times a day. I have high hopes that I will slowly heal, but I do worry quite a bit about this injury. Am I going to be able to hike 20-30 mile days again? Is my age catching up with me? Will I forevermore be plagued with injuries? How would a “real” athlete deal with a problem like this?

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