My recovery journey
Part I
In this blog, I want to share my personal experience of going through a knee injury, specifically tearing my ACL and cartilage damage, as a freelance dancer. I will take you through the events leading up to my injury, the diagnosis, the initial plan for surgery, as well as the unexpected challenges along the way, and my decision to explore alternative methods of recovery.

This journey has taught me valuable lessons about resilience, self-care, and listening to my body.

By sharing my story, I hope to offer a different perspective on dealing with ACL injury as a dancer.
How I tore my ACL and got cartilage damage

It happened during a guest performance of my piece "Patterns of perception" at a school. The team and I were in a rush to set up the performance, because usually in these settings one doesn't get enough time. That led to me not managing to warm up properly and prepare my body. During the show (which was one of the best runs we had until then) I made a wrong step: I took too much energy for a hop, and couldn't deal with it during the landing, which led to misalignment and a bad landing, causing the injury to my knee. I immediately felt that something went wrong. While I didn't hear a popping sound as often described, my knee felt displaced, leading me to believe it was a kneecap issue or a similar minor injury, as I have never encountered knee injuries in my dance career before. I managed to lump my way off-stage for the last part of the performance, but ahead were 2 hours of workshops and Q-and-A after the show. I ended up icing my injury poorly, which I would regret a lot the next few days...

Diagnosis and Initial Plan for Surgery

After visiting the hospital and undergoing an MRI a few days later, the doctors revealed that I had a torn ACL and cartilage damage (2 doctors said that it was a rupture, and one said that it was not fully torn). They warned that without surgery, I wouldn't be able to dance again due to the instability and I would experience knee pain walking up the stairs due to the impact-related cartilage damage. At that point, I couldn't walk at all and was on crutches the whole time, so I took their word without any doubt and thought that only surgery could help me get back on track.

The Physical and Mental Challenges

The first week following the injury was the most challenging and longest week of my life. My knee was swollen, making me unable to put any weight on it, and having trouble sleeping, as I would be afraid to relax too much and turn in a way that would cause immense pain...
For me as an active person, this sudden loss of mobility took a toll on my mental health. I relied heavily on the support of others for even the simplest tasks, leading to moments of frustration, and due to the loss of movement I started to feel depression creeping in.
Luckily, I was already able to take small steps 7 days after my injury, and that drastically improved my mood and happiness levels.
I was told to wait 3-4 weeks until the swelling is gone and then call to schedule the surgery.

Unexpected Delays

While preparing for the surgery, various unforeseen circumstances caused repeated delays and rescheduling of the surgery. Firstly, as I called to schedule the surgery, my primary doctor went on a 2-week vacation. Then there was a drought in Germany, which resulted in a delay, as the delivery time of the surgical materials was affected. The clinic told me that they had no idea how long this would take. Frustrated by these setbacks, I decided to try out another doctor - it's always good to have a second opinion. Many colleagues have recommended a Knee clinic in Offenbach that makes "all the knees of the region", so I decided to schedule an appointment with them and see if I can get my surgery done faster there.

Alternative Approach

The new doctor proposed a different plan. Instead of using a ligament from my leg for the ACL replacement, he suggested a donor ligament. His reasoning was based on the narrow structure of my bones in general (would my own graft be strong enough in the new place?) and concerns about weakening another area of my leg (wherever they take the graft from becomes weaker). He also mentioned a "healing method" involving the stimulation of stem cells through controlled bone destruction.
For me, this new plan sounded more considerate and I was happy that the doctor was willing to account for all the different factors and first see the condition, before replacing my ACL.
Summer 2022, my first 15 k steps after injury. Tired. Happy.
Surgery Day

On the day of the surgery, I arrived at the hospital with mixed emotions of excitement and fear. However, just before the operation, the doctor tested my knee again and discovered that it had become less stable (two weeks prior I got COVID and was laying in bed the whole time, so this has caused my muscles to weaken and to stabilize my knee less). This development led the doctor to change the plan and opt for replacing my ACL. However, he hadn't ordered a donor graft as he explained prior, so he wanted to use my own hamstring ligament instead... I didn't like this plan, because prior he gave me many reasons why he wanted to use a donor graft, and then suddenly flipped the decision completely. But it was 7 a.m. I didn't eat anything for the past 12 hours and wanted it all to be over soon...

Postponing Surgery... again

I was right in front of the operating room, in a hospital gown just about to get the surgery. However, due to the anesthesia restrictions following my COVID-19 recovery, the operation had to be canceled. The doctor said that I needed a minimum of 5 weeks after Covid before I can go under anesthesia. At this point, I wasn't even disappointed anymore... it was funny how many times I just couldn't seem to get the surgery!
But what else could I do... I just ended up waiting and seeing what happens next.

Rehabilitation and Recovery

In the weeks that I had to wait I decided to focus on strengthening the muscles around my knee to try to stabilize it without surgery. I lost a bit of trust in my doctor, as he flipped his decision last time right before the surgery, so I wanted to see how far rehab could get me before I decide to replace my ACL. At this point, I was already walking and going up the stairs without much pain.
I exchanged with a Yoga instructor that dealt with meniscus problems himself before, so he showed me some static lunge exercises with blocks that stabilized the knee without too much action (as excessive bending and stretching the knee at the time didn't feel right, but bending the knee and holding felt better), so I incorporated that into my practice.
I also sought guidance from fellow dancers who had experienced knee injuries and integrated the use of a TENS machine to activate and strengthen my thigh muscles.

The Future and Decision-Making

At this stage, I was committed to seeing how far I could recover without surgery. Seeing a Manual Therapist helped me get rid of the pain in my knee which was caused by a muscle imbalance (as my body tried to keep the knee safe, but in the long run it caused unnecessary muscle tension and disbalance of the knee joint). So now pain-free, I was ready to start training and strengthening my leg.
I decided to wait and see how my mobility would be in a year post-injury and whether I would be content with the progress or if I would still need to consider surgical intervention.
Regardless of the future outcome, this journey has already taught me the importance of trusting my instincts, seeking multiple opinions, and being open to alternative paths of healing.
My injury journey and the decision to avoid surgery have been filled with ups and downs, unexpected challenges, and moments of self-discovery.
While the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined, I am grateful for the opportunity to explore alternative methods of recovery and have gained a deeper understanding of my body and its capacity for healing.

I hope my story serves as a reminder that sometimes the path to recovery may not follow the conventional route, and it's essential to listen to our bodies and make informed decisions about our health and well-being.
I also made a Youtube video, talking about this first period after my injury:
If you're interested in taping the knee, I made a Kinesio Tape tutorial: