I’ve suffered various injuries over the last 30 years of mountain biking. I’ve had a few broken bones and have lost plenty of skin but this week something different has stopped me riding, until today. I had some discomfort behind my left knee and on investigation I found a swollen area at the top of my calf, just below the back of the knee joint. I’d felt like I was suffering from cramp in the left calf and now think it’s all part of the same issue. It could have been a swelling in the posterior cruciate ligament which connects the muscle at the back of the thigh to the bone of the lower leg but because of the cramp like feeling in my calf I’m now thinking that the swelling is where the calf muscle attaches at the top. So what could be causing this swelling, which I’ve had for a few days.
An obvious explanation would be that I’d strained the muscle or ligament in a traumatic way, by twisting or stretching in an accident. I haven’t had any such accidents, though, so there must be another reason. I have a possible cause which eminates from my medical history.
When I was 17 years old I had food poisoning, specifically salmonella, which is caught from chickens or eggs. I really don’t know how I picked it up but I know all about the long term consequences. As soon as the food poisoning was over I started to feel pain in my shoulder joint which soon spread to many other joints. It was a form of rheumatoid arthritis and it changed the course of my life in many ways. I spent 9 weeks in hospital, it messed up my A level exams, taken the following summer and combined with the psychological effect on a young person it has been one of the defining events in my life. The entire course of my work and many other things have been materially changed.
I was starting to recover physically by the summer but didn’t return to serious sport until almost 2 years after the infection. I seemed to get over the arthritis until 7 or 8 years later when I suddenly started to feel a lot of joint pain. I was offered no treatment, since there was only pain relief available. Nothing could be done about the causes. After 6 to 9 months I was given a book by friend of my mother’s which I think was called “Diet for Life”. It advocated a diet to relieve arthritis not through pain relief but by removing certain foods which were claimed to trigger pain and inflammation. Guess what? It worked?
I was not susceptible to some of the triggers so was left just needing to avoid black pepper, chocolate and very acidic foods like fruit juices. Subsequently I identified mushrooms, which unfortunately I loved, so excluded those as well. It’s not easy to cut out all of these things unless you cook everything yourself from scratch but for nearly 35 years I’ve been fairly free from arthritis. I’ve yet to speak to a medical professional who believes any of this but that doesn’t matter, it works for me.
Strange, then, that I should make my wife a chocolate cake for last weekend and eat about half of it myself. I thought a little indulgence was unlikely to harm me but it appears that it has. The irritation of arthritis has often spead into my tendons and I think that is what’s happened this time. As a result I decided to take another day’s rest yesterday and do an easy ride today. I rode along the canal bank In glorious,sunny weather to the locks at Johnson’s Hillock where 7 locks rise by around 60 feet.
The Leeds/Liverpool canal is an amazing construction which crosses the Pennines, a chain of hills running up the middle of northern England. I think there are only 2 or 3 locks before the 22 locks at Wigan. 11 miles later are these 7 then only a few more until the Bingley 5 rise, which speaks for itself. This relative lack of locks does mean that the canal runs for 127 miles between the 2 cities which are only around 75 or 80 miles apart.
I continued past the boats moored at Wheelton before turning back towards home. I hope that the blood pumping round will have helped to speed my recovery and to be honest the swelling seems to have gone. I covered only around 10 miles of easy terrain but it was a lovely day to be out. In a few days I hope to back to real mountain biking.