Three weeks ago, I got a call at work from my son. “Mom,” he said, “I woke up this morning and my right knee was killing me. I can’t bend it without it hurting really bad. Can you please take me to the doctor?”
Of course, my first question was how did he injure it. His answer was that he didn’t know, that he just woke up with it hurting, that maybe he slept on it funny or something. Given that he had spent the night at a friend’s house, and given that some other boys had been over hanging out with them earlier in the evening, I was highly doubtful that his knee just magically started hurting for no reason. He had played a tough tournament the weekend before and was physically fine, so I knew there was more to the story.
Turns out, there was. My son had gotten into a physical squabble with one of the other boys (I’m still not clear on how it started!), and the other boy threw my son onto the floor, banging his knee directly on the patella. My son didn’t want to tell me about the fight because he knew I’d be furious that he was fooling around and risking an injury in the middle of a busy summer, tennis-wise. He knew he had done something really stupid and felt badly about it. I think his coach had already given him an earful about personal responsibility and taking care of his body once he heard about the knee trouble, so my son didn’t want to have to hear it again from his mom!
My husband and I both figured he had probably simply bruised it pretty badly and that it would take a few days to feel better. In the meantime, we told our son to rest it and ice it to speed up the process. He called his coach who agreed to feed him balls so he wouldn’t have to do any lateral movement on the court but would be able to maintain his strokes and timing while the knee healed. That went on for several days.
Once he was feeling better, he decided to test out his knee in practice. He played a set against one of the other boys and seemed to be feeling and moving just fine. But, then he took an awkward step to the side and felt a twinge. Not a good sign! Luckily, he had an appointment with the orthopedist scheduled for the next morning, so he could have it checked out a bit more thoroughly. The xrays came back normal – no ACL tear (thank goodness!) and no other visible damage. The doctor said there is a slight chance that my son has a micro-tear in his knee cap, which wouldn’t show up on an xray, so he ordered an MRI for the following week. In the meantime, he said, my son could continue hitting as long as the balls were fed directly to him, but no match play and no hard-core drills until after the MRI.
The drive home from the doctor’s office was rough. I was really upset over the possible patellar tear, and I guess I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my emotion. My son said, “Look, Mom, don’t you think I’m angry about this, too? Don’t you think I know how stupid it was to get into that fight? But, it’s in the past – there’s nothing I can do to change it. Now, I just have to focus on getting better so I can get back on the court.” My response to him: “I’m proud of your attitude and that you’re taking responsibility here, and I’ll try to be as mature as you over this, okay? But, no promises.”
Since my dad is an orthopedist, too, I immediately got in touch with him to report on what the local doctor had told us. My dad reassured me that, based on my description of the injury, it’s likely just a bruise that will heal over a few days. But, he emphasized, it’s important to follow the recommendations of the doctor who actually examined my son and to take the necessary precautions until an MRI could confirm what’s going on with the knee.
Standing in the same spot and hitting forehands and backhands is great for keeping your timing sharp but it does nothing for maintaining stamina or leg strength, so it was time to engage my son’s fitness trainer for some ideas. The trainer told him to get in the pool and do some very specific interval training – that way, he wouldn’t be putting stress on the knee but would still be able to keep up his endurance level. Swimming is NOT my son’s favorite way to exercise, and he certainly wasn’t excited to trade court time for pool time, but he complied.
The MRI is scheduled for this afternoon with a follow-up orthopedist appointment tomorrow morning. At that point, we should know the status of the injury and whether or not my son can resume his regularly scheduled training program. Of course, we’re hoping the MRI shows a normal knee – no tear in the patella, no strained tendon, no micro-fracture. My son is supposed to head down to South Florida on Sunday for a week of tennis camp with Carlos Goffi. I’m hoping he can go. I’ll report more after tomorrow’s appointment.