I have had chronic knee pain for 13 years (I can’t believe it – 13 years!). My knees hurt after standing for 20 minutes or longer, so it obviously limits my activities. I have taken several steps to ease this pain, including two knee surgeries, multiple rounds of physical therapy, consultations with countless doctors, and acupuncture. The ancient Chinese tradition of acupuncture has by far been the most successful approach, but it has not completely eliminated my knee pain.
For the first 10 years or so of this chronic aching, I lamented my situation, rhetorically asked why this happened to me, and whined and moaned whenever I had to sit out some activity due to my “bad knees.” But my tune has changed during the last three years as I have begun to accept the persistent knee pain and explore whether it can add balance – and perhaps even a spiritual element – to my life.
My knees are the weakest spot in my body, so when they start to hurt (particularly when I am not engaging in an activity known to cause pain), I know something is amiss within. I now take the cue to explore whether I am too stressed or unbalanced at that point in my life and then take various steps to regain my footing. My chronic knee pain even helped signal excess stress due to a demanding job that provided no satisfaction. Acupuncture had lessened my pain overall, yet I was still experiencing unexplainable pain in my knees at all times of the day and night. After some reflective thinking, I ended the job and my knee aches eased up again.
Although that might sound far-fetched, it’s true; and so my knees have become my internal compass, my guide to balance. I am now conscious of taking self care and don’t mind sitting down and resting, enjoying the moment and intentionally observing my surroundings. Rest is crucial to our well-being and overall health; however, we rarely make it a priority, instead often choosing to cram in every last to-do list item and social activity. My knees force me to recognize the importance of rest. I now schedule rest in between long stretches of errands, house cleaning, and exercising, for example. Knee pain also can be a sign that I need to stretch my muscles, particularly those in my legs and hips, to ease the pain, and also to engage in deep breathing and quiet moments where I turn my thoughts inward.
My bad knees have also created opportunities for me to cultivate new interests in exercises that I previously would not have explored. As my normal routine of stair-step machines, aerobic classes, and other hard-hitting activities became too painful, I was forced to slow down my workouts and re-evaluate my goals. I am now an avid walker and swimmer – two activities I considered too low impact to be worthwhile before my knees acted up. And I now love yoga and tai chi, which I credit for bringing more spiritual awareness and meditative practices into my life.
This limitation, as I formerly considered it, has actually become one of my keys to balance – warning me whenever I am about to step over the edge and tip the scale in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to completely eliminate my never-ending knee ache, and I continue to explore options to do so. In the meantime, I think the pain is a unique tool I have been given to help me achieve balance, and I continue to look to it as my gauge to enhance my quality of life.
Next time you feel the urge to lambaste your particular ailment, pause for a moment. What is your body trying to communicate? Perhaps you’ve found your own balance barometer…and maybe it is suggesting that changes are in order.