How a Dedicated Walker Reduced Knee Pain

Background

I’ve been a dedicated walker all my life. As a young person wandering the woods, a biologist tromping the Alaskan tundra, a nature center director leading groups of kids afield, and as a birder, backpacker, and cross-country skier I’ve put a lot of miles on my 70-year-old joints. My iPhone says I’ve averaged about 11,000 steps a day for the past four years. If extrapolated backward that’s about 240 million flexes on my knee joints!

Several years ago, my physician treated me for elevated blood pressure (BP) with meds that I didn’t like taking.  I asked her if increasing my physical activity might reduce my blood pressure. She said, “Give it a try.”  I did and expanded my walking and added some simple daily weight exercises.  It worked.  After about six months my BP fell into the normal range. I tossed out the meds and kept exercising.

Then an ironic problem arose. In early 2019 my left knee started to hurt. Really hurt.  A few months later the right knee followed suit. My doc prescribed an X-Ray that revealed cartilage worn thin. I was caught in a dilemma.  If pain caused me to reduce walking, my blood pressure would rise. Not good. Medical science started steering me toward knee replacement. However, I wanted to try other solutions first.  Sooner or later knee surgery may be needed but after almost a year of experimenting with ways and places to walk and what shoes are best, I’m able to stay physically active and reduce, but not completely eliminate the knee joint pain.

Pain Meds

My family physician suggested I try over the counter pain medications to reduce knee swelling and pain. I tried Ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen at different times.   None reduced swelling or seem to diminish knee pain, so I rarely use them during the day.  I do occasionally take them if my knee hurts at night when I’m trying to sleep.

Where I Walk

I usually walk in three distinctly different places. Cedar Rapids has several paved trails that circle two lakes and make for interesting walking. I found that the unyielding hard paved surface adds to knee pain. Other area trails are surfaced with crushed limestone.  It’s firm but less hard than pavement and seems to create less knee pain than asphalt.   My third walking area is nearby woodlands, grasslands, and lawns. It involves walking on dead leaves, grass or dirt pathways in the woods. These surfaces create the least discomfort: Lesson:   Where I walk has a bearing on knee pain.

How I Walk

When knee pain appeared each step hurt, and I walked gingerly.  I took shorter strides and climbed stairs slowly and deliberately. I eventually learned that a quicker pace and longer strides reduced knee pain. And, as I walk knee pain gradually subsides. It doesn’t completely go away but diminishes after the first quarter mile or so. It would be easy to simply give up after a few steps and retreat to a chair, but that’s counterproductive. Lesson:  Walk briskly and don’t give up if the first few hundred steps hurt.

 Footwear

For most of my life, I’ve worn hard-soled hiking boots, often with distinct and high heels, like a cowboy boot. After my knees started hurting, I began experimenting with many types of shoes, insoles, and boots. I believe that the hardness/softness of shoes and soles along with the angle the shoes create for the lower legs has a strong bearing on knee pain. The high heeled stiff boots I once wore produced the most pain. The most comfortable boots for me have soft cushioning soles and a shallow or no heel. Some shoes are very “squishy”. They have thick very soft soles. They made walking on hard surfaces more comfortable but have a major disadvantage. Whenever I walk on a side slope the squishy soles have some give to them and this puts side pressure on my knees. It hurts. I’ve also experimented with various insoles. Some make the shoes more cushioning and have helped. They also slightly change the angle where my lower leg joins the knee.

Footwear Lesson One:    The type of footwear and insoles I wear lessens or worsens knee pain.   Finding the right combination is by trial and error.  My favorite footwear for cool weather walking on hard surfaces is crepe-soled leather boots with only a shallow heel. These are often used by carpenters who spend hours every day on their feet. 

 Footwear Lesson Two:   Quality shoes and boots are expensive but they seem to fit better, are more comfortable and last longer than cheaper counterparts. Put money upfront. The cost of a quality pair is trivial if they reduce pain.

My Advice

My knees may continue to deteriorate to the point where I need knee surgery, but altering my shoes and boots and changing how and where I walk has helped reduce pain and may be all I need. I hope so but won’t hesitate to seek medical help if the pain worsens.

Everyone is different and what works for me to reduce knee pain may not work for others. However, I feel many people can reduce pain by finding the right combination of shoes/boots/insoles that produce the least knee pain and walking on the most comfortable surfaces at the pace that produces the least discomfort.

 How to Know When to Seek Medical Help

When My knees began hurting and I experimented with ways to reduce it, I wondered how to know when it’s time for knee surgery. I asked Matt Schmitz, Physical and Integrated Wellness Program Manager at the Nassif Community Cancer Center, and his advice was superb. “When pain causes you to not do the things you like it’s time to take action,” he said.  It’s good advice.

I’m not a physician and recognize that everyone’s body is different. What works for me may not work for someone else.   Over the counter pain medications, for example, might help others even though they seemed ineffective for me.  The trick is finding a combination of footwear, medication, and exercise that reduces knee pain.  

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Who Remembers Smokey the Bear?

News Reports and Remembering

Recent photos of burned and displaced kangaroos and koalas from massive Australian wildfires are heartbreaking and bring back memories of both fighting and setting fires in American woods and prairies.

As a 24-year-old US Forest Service Hot Shot back nearly 50 years ago I had the good fortune to help contain three wildfires in Southern Idaho. One left a memory of towering flames roaring up a steep slope toward my crew as we hurriedly dug a fire line parallel to the ridge. I wielded a chainsaw, dropping pines and firs toward the approaching flames. It was noisy, hot, and scary but our line, with the help of an airplane that dropped a load of “slurry”, stopped the blaze.

Not All Fires Respond the Same

Just a year later I lit a fire in dry prairie grass at the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. It roared onward until stopped dead by a mowed path. Green grass doesn’t burn.

We burn our prairie and oak woodland at Winding Pathways every year, usually in the fall because we know that our land, like much of North America, needs fire for good ecological health.

Misleading Reporting

Evening news stories about the terrible destruction of wildfires can be misleading and are never complete because:

     * They show the most incinerated place in a vast burned area. Sometimes the land is not nearly so consumed by the fire.
     * They never follow up. Months after a burn the same spot is lush with green growth and spangled with wildflowers. 

Fire is as much a force of nature as rain and wind. Yes, they destroy houses in their path. Remember, often these were built in the woods without the fire-resistant construction recommended by the US Forest Service. In North America, fires don’t destroy forests or grasslands. They invigorate them.

Every year we look forward to abundant wildflowers and healthy grass in areas we’ve burned.   But what about wildlife caught in a rapidly spreading fire?  I’ve had the opportunity to watch rabbits, birds, deer, and even elk respond to flames.  They don’t panic. Rabbits simply seem to hop to places unlikely to burn.  So do deer. Snakes and some insects might enter holes and tunnels in the ground. Some are probably cooked. Baby animals would be unable to flee flames. Fortunately, spring fires, when babies are helpless, are rare.

2019 marked a huge fire event. It was Smokey the Bear’s 75th birthday!  I love Smokey. He is one of the most successful marketers ever convincing people to drown campfires and snuff out matches. Smokey was so successful that fires became rare enough for plenty of dead wood to accumulate in Western Forests. That, combined with climate change, helped create the conditions for the catastrophic fires that have burned in recent years. Smokey’s message was a little off, but he’s still a loveable character.

Here is how he came to be. In 1950, after the Smokey Bear character was created, a singed bear cub was found after a fire. He lived for years in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Known as Smokey, millions of people saw him until his death in  1976. He’s buried near the Smokey Bear Museum in Capitan, New Mexico.

An outstanding website about Smokey and wildfires is sponsored by the US Forest Service.  If you are ever in Moscow, Idaho, be sure to stop at the Smokey Bear store on Main Street.  

 

2019 Labyrinth Walks

Labyrinths have been integral to this year’s activities. Locations have spanned from the East Coast to the deep South, and from Alaska to Hawai’i. Catch up with Winding Pathways’ 2019 walks at 1080 Laughing Labyrinth website.

May you enjoy labyrinth walks in 2020. Join Veriditas Council for a Qualifying Workshop for those interested in learning more about labyrinths.  For trained facilitators a Renewal Day in Rapid City, SD, April 25, 2020.

Solvitur Ambulando.

Gratitudes 2019

For many people, 2019 was a roller coaster year in some respects. A habit I have developed is writing down each day a gratitude on a sticky note and placing each in a jar on the counter. Then, at the end of the year (three years now) I read them and select a few to remember. These are randomly selected.

In General – * Several times throughout the year we enjoyed breakfast, coffee or dinner with neighbors and friends.
* Yoga classes are always an activity I am grateful for.
* Healing energy work at home and the Nassif Community Cancer Center.
* Computer help from Turner Web Marketing and Dustin at Kirkwood.
* Taking in displays at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art with a friend.
* The year-long Shaman class.  Meeting new people, learning different techniques and having the similarities of techniques affirmed.

January – * Grateful we have a competent tax consultant to help with tax ins and outs.
* We found an important letter that had dropped in the snow at the mailbox.

February – * After bitter cold for weeks on end, we had a sparkly, mild winter day.  Birds singing and the sun strong enough to melt snow and ice.
* The previous year I had investigated possible sites for Renewal Day 2020.  One of the excellent sites, Outlaw Ranch in the Black Hills, contacted me for an update. They were gracious when I explained the Veriditas Council had chosen a different location. The Ranch is a great location.  A concern is that late April we could have a “snowbound” event.
* We’ve done monthly Facebook Live shows with Hoover’s Hatchery featuring Winding Pathways chickens: what’s new, how to, humor and gratitude for the hens.  And, I hammed it up for KCRG-TV doing a FB live at the Nassif Community Cancer Center promoting their wellness center.
* A friend fixed our water pipe going to the outside, so it would not freeze up.

March – * Nancy arranged flights for me back East when Claire Patterson died. The ZOOM meeting from The Lake went well. The remembrance time at “33” on a beautiful late winter day – snowdrops outside the kitchen door. Coffee with Nancy before we separated to our respective terminals for flights. Flights on time!

April – * Excellent support from the Interreligious Council of Linn County and Lisa R. for the Global Healing Response program.

May – * A quiet student in the Journey’s class opened up day three, smiled and shared. Wonderful!

June – * Jazz festival Elkhart, IN. NYC with D and A and her mom. B-day celebrations by Jack and Marie. Quite the antipasto feast. Fireworks as we came back to Denville on the bus! Fireflies when we returned home.

July – * Walk labyrinth in the early morning.

August – *Journeys with outstanding colleagues.

September – *Tour of the Elmcrest Country Club by JH, who was so gracious to my sister and brother-in-law who is quite the golf enthusiast.
* Alaska adventures with B and N.
* House re-roofed.

October – * Visit with friends in Ohio. Attending the simple Sunday evening service at a retirement home. Labyrinth walks at Cedar Lake and Parsippany.
* Veriditas Council meeting to plan Renewal Day and Qualifying Workshop 2020 in The Black Hills.

November – * Dan and Amy’s wedding in the East. Fun times. Music. Food. Relatives and friends.
* Cleaned the prairie after the wimpy burn. Goodness the ground is wet and the air humid this year.
* Thanksgiving with friends here.

December – * Re-connecting with a massage therapist I know from another venue.
* D. came to Scott Mansfield’s memorial service.
* Calls from and to families.
* Kopecky’s hosted us and a family far from home.

How About These Animal Encounters!

We asked readers to send along some curious animal encounters.
Enjoy these guest blog entries as we wind down 2019.

From the East Coast to the Upper Midwest and ranging to Alaska and Hawaii people interact with or encounter wildlife in rural and urban areas.

Birds

SF: Lots to Raven About.  “I saw my first ever raven yesterday — sitting and cawing on the roof of a car in a parking lot in Milford! JEESH! Do you think it was a portent of anything?

“Crows, of course, are extremely common; nevertheless, I love to see them in the huge groups they tend to gather in. I don’t know who assigned the collective nouns for species, but “Murder of Crows” is a favorite.

“Every time I hear that “caw” I look up hoping to see a raven, but I’ve never seen one until yesterday. I heard a ruckus as I got out of my car in a parking lot in Milford, NH, and saw one — sitting on top of a car and making his presence known. It was huge and oddly majestic, but sadly, it was a single bird, not an ‘unkindness of ravens’.”

AS: Birding Resort. Happenings were just ducky at a Hawaiian resort. And, this cock had something to crow about following a skeptical tourist.  Who won? “The rooster lives near the food truck so it wins this match off.”

JH: Eagle Encounter: Several years ago on my way to the Y swim class, I saw, to my total delight, a wondrous sight. As I approached my turn, I saw a huge bird just sitting on a fence post.  I made the turn and slowly stopped my car,  I recognized this critter as the American Bald Eagle.  We each sat on our own perch eyeing one another.  After carefully retrieving my camera, I snapped a couple of pictures.

The eagle kept an eye on me. Then, he spread his wings and laboriously lifted off, swinging to his left towards a telephone pole out in the pasture.  As he landed, he tucked his wings into his sides and continued his watch.  I suppose he was wondering what I was doing just as I was wondering what he had been doing as he sat on the fence post.

He had been just a couple of arm’s lengths from me. To be so close to him was awesome. I could only imagine what it would be like to stroke his beautiful feathers.

Bald Eagle sitting on fence post

The eagle continued to eye me.

Mammals

JA: Albino deer. I caught some photos of albino deer in Wisconsin.

DP: Surprise Dolphins. “While reporting from Charleston, South Carolina, during the 2012 presidential campaign my colleagues and I stopped to look at the ocean. The city is surrounded on three sides by water and we expected to see lots of boats and people enjoying the water. We didn’t expect to encounter a school of dolphins! They swam around us for a few minutes and seemed to be having a lot more fun than we were.”

NP&BO: Moose & Wolverines & Cats! Oh, my! Baby moose roaming an Anchorage neighborhood, munching on raspberry patches.  Then, along comes mama and they stroll down the street. A lot of urban moose in Anchorage.  Other parts of the city boast moose and black bears!

News from the North. Latest Anchorage crime as reported by the Anchorage Daily News: Yet Another Urban Wildlife encounter as cat survives wolverine attack near the Campbell Science Center.

 

North Woods Near Encounter

MN: Wolf Encounter. “My friend and I were camping in the BWCA in January, several years ago.  At the end of a long day of cutting/splitting wood, fishing, snowshoeing and cutting more wood, we sat next to a blazing fire as the early sunset arrived and we were soon enveloped in darkness.  The stillness of the forest in winter is amazing because there are no insects or other nocturnal creatures that make noise.  On this windless night, there was no sound besides the crackling fire.  Suddenly and without warning, we both had the feeling that someone or something was watching us from not far away.  I slowly turned, and the fire was just bright enough to illuminate the face of a large wolf, 10 feet away.  We froze, not knowing what to do.  Had it been a black bear in summer, we would have started shouting and waving our arms to scare it away.  But we weren’t prepared for this and had no idea what to do.  So we just sat and watched.  The wolf didn’t seem aggressive, and it slowly moved directly toward me.  I remained motionless.  It came right up next to me and sniffed my arm.  I wondered, what I should do?  I was a little too unnerved to do anything.  The wolf seemed satisfied with my scent and moved on to my friend and smelled his boot.  And then, just as quietly as he arrived, he slowly walked off into the woods.  We sat there motionless, except for our eyes, all four of which were now the size of half dollars.  We threw some more wood on the fire and waited, but the wolf did not return.

Mystery Solved

Winter Camping in the North Woods

Comfortable digs on a winter campout.

“The next morning we got up and went out to fish.  In the distance, on the other side of the lake, we saw someone doing the same.  We decided to take a walk and share our wolf experience with this person.  We greeted him and explained what happened and asked if perchance he had encountered the same wolf.  He had indeed!  And suddenly the wolf was bounding across the ice, coming straight for us.  “Max, come on boy!  Over here!”  We were astounded that this guy was actually naming and calling wolves.  “Do you know this wolf?”, we asked.  He knew him all right.  He owned this “wolf”, which was actually a mix – half-wolf, half-dog!  We petted him and he licked our bare hands just as any dog would, especially since he was familiar with our scent after his visit to our campsite the previous night.”

 

Erma Herman Visits During a Cold Canadian Night

LF: Erma Herman. Though not snuggly, ermine are quite lovely little critters. Their Winter coat seems more purely white because of their black tails, bright black eyes and button nose. For several Winters I’ve enjoyed watching one that has visited our platform feeder to gnaw on the chunk of suet I put out for the birds. I marvel at the rapid movement, dashing back and forth, here one second, gone in a flash.

I’m guessing it’s one, as I’ve never seen two at the same time.

Last Winter, during a freeze/thaw period, after we had some plumbing issues that involved the plumber working in the crawl space under the house, we were visited by ‘Erma Herman’ in the middle of the night. I awoke to an alarmingly loud, squeaking/squealing sound coming from the kitchen and the cat “tharumping” across the floor, coming to a halt in front of the dryer, where I could see a tiny black nose poking out from underneath.

It had found its way in through the smallest of openings left by the plumber, making its way up the hoses for the washing machine and into the kitchen where the scent of cat food was calling. It took several nights, a mousetrap, which is still somewhere in the understructure of the house, several packages of steel wool and a roll of duct tape (Red Green would be proud) before it stopped coming in.

My neighbour, who no longer tries to keep chickens, is not a big fan of ermine, Winter or Summer.

 

Is Greta Thunberg Wrong?

Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl, overcame challenges posed by autism to sail across the ocean and encourage people everywhere to work to reduce damage to the atmosphere and resulting climate change. She is inspiring, but is she wrong?

Greta’s commitment reminds us of the youthful energy of the late 1960s that led to great progress in environmental protection and civil rights. It is our hope that she’s energizing both young and older people to make our planet’s future safer and fairer.

After Greta spoke at the United Nations critics attacked her for advocating governmental action worldwide to reduce emissions yet didn’t say much about individual action.

Is she wrong? Absolutely not. This young woman crossed the ocean in a sailboat to avoid burning fossil fuel. She advocates government action while demonstrating personal actions to keep carbon out of the air.

Winding Pathways encourages homeowners to heed Greta and enhance the health of the atmosphere, water, and land by living lighter on resources. Here are a few steps we all can do to follow the inspiring actions she advocates:

Reduce Emissions

  • Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t require mowing.
  • Use a battery-powered, cordless lawnmower to mow the lawn less frequently and to grow higher. This allows, roots to penetrate deeper into the soil and absorb rain.
  • Insulate and caulk the house. Few actions are as inexpensive as insulating walls and attics, and caulking holes and cracks that let cold air in. These simple steps cut fuel use.
  • Many towns have built safe, pleasant bike trails. Try commuting and shopping by bike instead of by car.
  • Fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles and is toasty warm. Wearing a comfy fleece outfit enables turning the thermostat down a few degrees.

Keep Water on the Property

  • Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t need irrigation or chemicals.
  • Mow less frequently, allowing grass roots to penetrate deeper into the soil.
  • Install rain barrels. They harvest rainwater handy to use to irrigate garden plants, fill chicken waterers, or wash hands outdoors.
  • Install a rain garden to channel downspout water into the ground instead of to a storm sewer.
  • Avoid lawn and garden chemicals. Most lawns and gardens do just fine without them.
  • Compost kitchen waste. Vegetable peels, corn cobs, coffee grounds, and even many paper plates and cups readily compost into humus that lawns and gardens love.

Greta’s right. Governments should take action to reduce emissions. So should you and I in our everyday lives.