I’ve been off the ice for almost 10 weeks now, and it’s the longest I’ve been without skating since I started four years ago. Heck, even just half that time would have qualified as being my longest-ever hiatus, so this summer has felt like an eternity.
The break wasn’t by choice — no matter how busy I get, I always try to skate at least once or twice a week, unless I’m physically unable. This time, though, I was physically unable. Long story short: hip labral tear, broken cartilage, surgery.
Longer story: I started experiencing discomfort and pain in my right hip a few months ago, and it made it impossible for me to sit in a chair or bend my hip joint, which meant the only position I could be in without pain was lying down on my stomach or lying flat on my back. I could occasionally stand without bending, but putting weight on the right hip joint caused pain and exacerbated the inflammation. Result: I spent 95% of my waking hours in bed, trying to do small amounts of work on a laptop when I could prop myself up for small periods of time. Thankfully I work from home so this was not as terrible a scenario as it could have been, but it was pretty uncomfortable.
I’d had this happen once before a few years ago, and when I’d gone to my general physician, I’d been told it was probably an inflammation that would go down with massive doses of Advil. I asked about further tests, but was told it probably wouldn’t yield much and would cost me a lot to have MRIs and scans, and since the doctor didn’t seem concerned, I followed her lead and let the inflammation subside. I was back on my feet in about four to six weeks then.
This time, I decided to try a specialist right away, and as a PSA: Skip the general doctor and go straight to a specialist, always! It doesn’t even have to be the right specialist — I went to a rheumatologist first, and he referred me to an orthopedic surgeon — but the specialists, in my experience, have been so much more helpful and informative. The rheumatologist took an X-ray, an MRI, and then one of those enhanced MRI’s that injects colored contrast dye into the joint. He didn’t see a clear labral tear in the scan (which was his first guess) but suspected there might be one anyway, and also noticed calcified loose bodies in the joint.
I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended arthroscopic hip surgery to confirm the labral tear and repair it, and to remove the loose bodies; he speculated that the presence of the calcifications had been mostly painless until they embedded themselves into a painful spot and caused a massive flare-up. Two weeks ago, I had the surgery, and as it turns out, there was a massive amount of broken cartilage in the joint (over a hundred pieces — some tiny, some the size of a pinky fingernail), which likely caused the labral tear and also minor arthritis. In the surgeon’s words at the post-op: “You were quite the mess, kid.”
Apparently old injuries are the most common cause of cartilage breaking off, but I can’t recall any specific skating incident that would have caused so much cartilage to break away. I would have remembered that much trauma! The doctor did say that sometimes cartilage flakes off and floats in the joint, and that the condition could just be hereditary. I recall having an aching hip some 15 years ago when I’d taken martial arts, so perhaps that started everything. In any case, I’m glad the fragments are out of there, but a little worried the condition may recur — the doctor said that if it does in the future, I may have to get arthroscopic surgery again. I’d much rather this be the result of an old injury than a condition that I’m just prone to having!
I’m recovering from surgery now and walking on crutches, which is slow going since my legs were unused for 2 months and my muscles have atrophied. All those lovely nice muscles I’d built up from regular, rigorous skating have basically turned to mush. I’m trying to be optimistic about what all this might mean for my skating: I have six weeks of physical therapy ahead of me before I can think of returning to the ice. And since this is my landing leg, I’m a little (a lot) concerned that I’ll be told I shouldn’t skate anymore. I know it sounds silly, but that’s my biggest worry in all of this — I feel like non-skaters look at “hip injury” and “ice skating” and think the answer is cut and dried, but meanwhile I’m trying not to have an existential crisis about it.
I was told early on that the doctors’ goal is to return me to a condition where I can do all the things I want to do, so there is hope; I just can’t help worrying. Maybe all will be well and I’ll be back to normal, jumping and spinning as before, but I’m also thinking of a Plan B, such as trying to learn to jump in the other direction if I have to (so I can land on the other leg) — I imagine I’d be the rare skater who jumps clockwise and spins counter-clockwise! Changing direction feels like such an impossible feat at this stage but I’d be willing to do it if it allowed me to continue with freestyle skating. And ice dancing is always another possibility. I’d just always thought of dance as something to do in addition to freestyle, not instead of. 😦
I’m determined to stay positive and get back on the ice (carefully, smartly), though it’s hard not to feel really bummed out about it all. And just when I was making such nice progress with my skating, too!