Monthly Archives: July 2017

Knees – not just getting old? #28 – postscript A: other treatment, workstation revisit

It’s been nearly 3 months since my “final” blog re Physio John’s treatment. Since then I have been seeing an orthotics specialist.  As well as giving me further specific exercises to do to help re-train both my running and walking gaits, he has had me gradually reduce the height of the insole worn in my left shoe for the past 6½ years, down from 11-12 mm to a current height of just 3mm, and which in a few more days can be reduced down to nothing!  This has been aided by learning to use my glutes and piriformis muscles much more properly, and getting them firing better.

There have been almost no “transition” issues as the insole heights were reduced – none in the neck area , where I had a lot of pains for years (before starting to wear the original insoles in 2010), and just some soreness in a muscle in the middle of the shoulder blade of the opposite arm, which might not even have been related to the insoles reductions, as it could have just been that I pulled something. In any case, that has cleared up now also.

Over the course of appointments spaced about 1 month apart, the orthotics specialist has gradually concluded that even though I was turning out to be a model patient, and we were making big advances towards much better walking and running posture, I might still have to wear an orthotic insole. Whereas “normal” insoles are “even” from the left to the right side as you look from behind , orthotic insoles are slanted, either one way or the other.  In my case this needs to have the extra height on the inside of the foot – near the arch etc – and reducing down to nothing on the outside.  I had been wondering several months ago about whether something like this might be needed, when I was having the more serious issues at that time with the knee.  The orthotics specialist made up a “quick and dirty” jury-rigged orthotic lift for me, which I have worn in all footwear since the first week in June, changing it over from one left shoe to another as I did varying activities etc.

On the plus side, both my walking and running gaits have ended up with a much longer stride than before. They were each always unnaturally short, and I didn’t know why until now.  I just wasn’t using my body’s equipment properly.  After resuming full running a few months ago, with the improved techniques and gait, I found that the time it was taking to run the same 4-mile course, came down from about 40 min to just 36 min on the last run taken, which was around the middle of June.

On the minus side, after that last run, I developed some soreness again in the affected knee later that evening, but it felt a bit different to previously – not as severe as when I had been having major troubles in the Autumn of 2016, which had led me to start seeing Physio John, but serious enough that I realised I would have to stop running again, for an unknown period.

Since then, based on both my own instinct and on the orthotics specialist’s advice, I have only mixed in a few very short runs of 1 min or less, while taking walks.  Even so, over the past few weeks, as well as some pain in the tib-fib joint on the outside of the knee, the main joint feels like it is not quite properly lined up, and that joint can also sometimes give a little pain.  When playing table tennis, which I have continued with the whole time, I am unable to give 100% when going after a shot that requires a full stretch onto that left knee.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that while laying on the couch, such as after a day’s normal activity, if I rest that leg with the knee bent upwards and the foot on the couch, even after a few minutes, the whole knee joint is a little stiff when I next straighten the leg out again.

After that final run, when I next saw the orthotics specialist on 19 June, he concluded that I will definitely need to wear an orthotic insole. In that session he took some film on his mobile phone, of me walking across the floor of his treatment room.  He found that looking from the front as I walked toward him, my knees stay straight as I walk, but from the back, my legs are rotating – both of them.  His conclusion is that this rotation, together with the likelihood that the affected knee has some permanent damage, is why I am having further issues, despite the fact that my walking and running techniques had recently been much more “correct”.  He took imprints of both feet and ordered the orthotic lifts, and I am now waiting for those to arrive with him from the manufacturer – the same firm who had made the original, “unslanted” insoles I had been wearing previously.  His assessment is that wearing an orthotic lift on both feet will gradually help with re-training the body to use my long limbs more naturally and efficiently, without any of the observed, unnecessary rotations to either leg.  Until that has taken place, I will continue to do no further running of any significant distances at all, just a few yards here and there when walking.  This transition to phase out the current rotations, could take some time – so I am being fairly patient.  It’s also not clear whether I will ever be able to resume running the same distance as before.  I must be prepared for any outcome on that.

 

One other development of note has come from the work done with the orthotics specialist, something worth sharing in this blog. In his treatment room/office, he sits on an unusual-looking “sit-to-stand saddle stool”, the kind of stool used in places like hair salons, for example.  He recommended I get one of these – they are dirt cheap on Amazon – to see whether it would help with sitting properly more of the time, as well as not putting the glutes and piriformis to sleep as much as sitting on a conventional chair does.

I bought one of these saddle stools in mid May – the same model he has in his office – and gave it a proper tryout for around 6 weeks. While it was indeed clearly much better for the various muscles on my backside, I did get very sore where the bones of the hip stick downwards – the same place where cyclists get sore, from sitting on their bike saddles.  Also I found that sitting on the stool seemed to aggravate some residual muscle sorenesses I have continued to have up in the rib area on the same left side of the body on which I have had the knee issues (see blog #01).

I did like using this new stool, and as predicted, due to simple physics, they naturally move you into good back posture. But after a couple of weeks to see whether my “underside” would toughen up and I would be able to get used to sitting on it at my home workstation for a total of the typical hours in a working week etc, I had to admit to myself that this was not happening, and that it was just too painful.  So I tried adding a layer of 1-inch foam rubber, of which I had some left over from an unrelated DIY task done in the house.  That helped quite a bit at first, but within a few more weeks, the foam had squashed down, as it was not designed for seating or furniture.

I then tried using proper foam for cushions – 2 inches thickness in total, and much stiffer material that wears out much slower. For this, I had a professional upholsterer add the foam over the top of the existing saddle shape, then finish it off with the same sort of layer of PVC as the stool originally came with, over that foam.  While this felt a bit better at first, after a few days the hip bones that protrude downwards were still getting quite sore, and the aggravation to the rib muscles was still happening.

Here are pics of the various stages of trials of the saddle stool, as described above:

      

Having been through all the above experiments, the continuing pains etc led me to decide it was time to give up on the saddle stool approach altogether. Instead I returned to using the “deep” chair I had bought from Physio John late last year, which was a spare one from his treatment room in the MOTI store.  Sitting on this chair, with an added towel folded into 8 layers as John has recommended (something that helps keep the pelvis a bit higher than the knees as you sit), did not hurt the “underneath” protruding hip bones like the saddle stool did, and the soreness in the rib area was also not bothered as much.  But as I had always found, my glutes get fairly sore after even just ½ an hour on the chair, and also my right hip joint gets sore.  These issues had been what motivated me to try the saddle stool – but compared to the troubles I had with the stool, it turns out that the chair issues are the lesser of 2 sets of evils.

To come up with the best compromise that seemed possible, using all the knowledge gained from trying various things re sitting, and based on what the orthotics specialist and Physio John have each told me, in place of a folded towel – which offers only a little cushioning – I worked out a design for a cushion to use together with John’s chair, one that as it turns out, works reasonably well. It’s made of 2-inch stiff cushion foam, is a square 360mm x 360mm when seen from the top, and starting halfway along it from the back to the front, I had the foam cut at a diagonal angle, so it slopes down to nothing at the knees.

Below is a scan of the drawing I initially made up of this shape, which is intended to provide the required extra height for the hips so that they are a bit higher than the knees, and to do this in a way that should feel comfortable and natural, as you sit on it.  In the past I have tried thicker foam, but it just squashes around too much, so 2 inches seems about right.

Using some excellent cutting machinery in their factory, the foam people were able to produce some pieces to the specification in this drawing.  I then took those to the same upholsterer who did the saddle stool work, along with some nice fabric I had picked out for covers. I had 2 cushions made up, one in green for use at home, and a black one to take out to the workplace.

After trying out the green cushion for a few hours, it was clear it helped with the sore backside, and to some extent, with the sore right hip joint. But one thing I noticed was that with the extra height I was now sitting at above the chair seat, a bony bit of my spine that had previously been lined up with the foam in the chair’s curved backrest, was now up against the top edge of the backrest, where there was no foam.  This was making it sore.

I took a closer look at the backrest on the chair, and immediately worked out what to do about this. The height of the backrest needed to be raised up by at least 1 inch.  As well as taking care of this new pain in the spine, I realised that if I raised it a little more, the whole backrest might then work more as intended by the chair’s original design, but for a person like me who has a longer than average torso.  It occurred that I could add a 3rd screw halfway between the existing 2 on each side of the backrest, then move the backrest up by one “set” of these screws, in effect adding around  2 inches to the height of the whole backrest, relative to the seat itself.

I carried out these modifications to the chair, and was even able to get the lowermost pair of screws – one on each side – to get a proper hold in the wood in the very bottom part of the backrest. The end result of this was that as well as being exactly the correct height for me, the backrest was now fastened even more strongly to the rest of the chair, than it originally had been.

The final tweak of note that I have made to the workstation setup in the last few months, was to the height of the desk. I had already raised it a little when trying out the saddle stool for a few weeks, and as it turned out, that height was still correct for sitting on John’s chair again, with the new green cushion.

Below are some pics of John’s chair, showing these mods and the new cushion, as compared to how it looked before they were made. In each pair as aligned, the left pics show the original chair design, and of me sitting on a towel folded into 8 layers as advised by John, for the extra pelvis height – and the right pics show the modified chair, and me sitting on the new cushion with the slanted bit to get my knees lower than the pelvis.

 

    

Finally, here are shots of the modified chair and new green cushion:

 

Sitting on this for the last few days has been much better for the parts of the hip bones that protrude “underneath”, and the rib area soreness has improved also.  Although my glutes are still getting sore, it’s not a bad as with no cushion, and the right hip joint soreness is also reduced, though still there.

I am open to suggestions from anyone reading this, about how this setup might be improved further, to both retain a structural design that will promote sitting properly – as this seems to do – but which might further reduce the sore glutes and right hip joint.  This is the best I have been able to come up with, at this point.